Pisa: 'Five years left' to save Scottish curriculum after shocking result

Expert warns 'the clock is ticking' for Curriculum for Excellence as Scotland slips down the global rankings

Emma Seith

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There are “only five years left” to salvage Curriculum for Excellence, experts have warned, after Scotland slumped in Pisa, one of the world’s leading education rankings.

The new Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) results prompted education secretary John Swinney (pictured, above) to say he would push ahead with “radical” and “controversial” reforms in an attempt to make CfE work.

One academic described the results as the “worst news for Scottish education in 30 years”.

Sharp declines in reading, maths and science scores for Pisa 2015 mean that Scotland ranks third of the four home nations in each category, with only Wales doing worse. In 2012, when the last Pisa tests took place, Scotland was top in reading and maths.

Internationally, the tests – sat by 15-year-olds in 72 countries and regions – show that Scotland is now considered “average” in reading, science and maths. In 2012, it was “above average” for reading and science.

Pisa results show urgent action is needed

Keith Topping, professor emeritus of education at the University of Dundee, said there was a need for urgent action to ensure that CfE was a success. “I don’t think it’s a lost cause, but the clock is ticking,” he said.

The national debate that led to CfE took place in 2002. Professor Topping said: “You can’t expect any curricular initiative to have a shelf life of longer than 20 years. If you don’t get it right in the next five years, forget it.”

Another education academic, Professor Lindsay Paterson from the University of Edinburgh, said the Pisa results showed that CfE was “failing” and that they marked the worst news for Scottish education in his 30-year career. “What else has been as much of a shock to Scottish complacency as this announcement?” he asked.

Mr Swinney admitted the figures made for “uncomfortable” reading, but said he “wasn’t that surprised” by them, because the Pisa tests took place around the same time as the disappointing results of the 2015 Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (article free for subscribers).

He added that the results “underline the case for radical reform of Scotland’s education system”. This, he said, was already underway in the form of standardised national assessments, which will start in 2017-18.

“It is by carrying through on these reforms – no matter how controversial – that we can make Scottish education world-class again,” Mr Swinney said.

This is an edited article from the 9 December edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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