The Scottish government has highlighted a "sharp rise in reading ability at school" in the latest Pisa scores, which gauge education performance in 36 countries and regions around the world.
It said that data from the Programme for International Student Assessment 2018, published today, showed reading levels now above average.
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However, Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith pointed to "record-low results for Scotland in both maths and science".
She said: “This is damning evidence revealing the full extent of the SNP’s shameful 12 years running down Scotland’s schools.
'Worst-ever' Pisa results in maths and science
“[First minister] Nicola Sturgeon asked to be judged on education. This summer saw the fourth consecutive year of decline in Higher pass rates and now the SNP is presiding over the worst-ever Pisa results in both maths and science.
"In reading, where it should be acknowledged that there is encouraging improvement since 2015, the score is still lower than the 2012 result and considerably lower than the score in 2000."
Labour education spokesman Iain Gray highlighted big long-term drops in Scotland's performance across reading, maths and science.
He said: “The small improvement in reading is welcome, but further falls in maths and science are alarming. In every area performance has deteriorated under the SNP.
"John Swinney [Scotland's education secretary and deputy first minister] and Nicola Sturgeon have been warned again and again that we have a problem with Stem [science, technology, engineering and maths] subjects being squeezed out of the curriculum but they refuse to listen."
He added: “John Swinney persists with unwanted and unhelpful 'reforms' like his standardised tests while failing to ensure that our schools have enough resources and enough teachers with enough time and support to do the job we know they can.
“The SNP have abolished most measures of performance in our schools, but they cannot hide from these figures, which show they have failed our schools and our children.”
The Scottish government said that Pisa data – which is based on assessment of 15-year-olds around the world in reading, maths and science – also shows that social background is now less of a factor in performance, corroborating wider evidence that the poverty-related attainment gap is closing.
The government also highlighted other findings, which showed that compared with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average:
A higher proportion of Scotland’s pupils felt inspired by their teachers’ enthusiasm.
Pupils were more likely to feel that their teachers enjoyed teaching and liked teaching their class.
Teachers were more likely to give feedback to students to improve their performance, while students were more likely to say this happened in every lesson or many lessons.
Mr Swinney said: “These are very encouraging results and the latest sign that our education reforms are working. Scottish schools are improving and this international study confirms that.
“Reading underpins all learning, and the sharp rise in performance is good news.
“The improvement has been driven by great teachers and well-supported pupils, but also our unrelenting focus on improving literacy through the Scottish Attainment Challenge and Pupil Equity Fund. Those efforts are now paying dividends, with only five countries scoring higher than Scotland at reading.
'Closing' the attainment gap
“The figures on social background also confirm that we are closing the gap between pupils from the richest and poorest backgrounds."
He added: “Maths and science scores are stable at the OECD average, so we need to see the kind of improvement that we now see in literacy in these areas, too. That is the challenge.
“An inspection of maths and numeracy published by Education Scotland shows what is working and how we can improve. It will help as we move on to the next phase of driving up standards in Scotland’s schools.
“And, in science, good progress has been made with delivery of our five-year Stem strategy, with the roll-out of career-long professional learning grants and new online resources for teachers. The impact of it will only just be beginning to be felt on the ground and we will continue to push for the improvements that we know can be made."
Mr Swinney concluded: “There is plenty of work still to do to improve Scottish education but today’s report should give people a strong sense that we are on the right track, making substantial progress and seeing results where it counts – in the classroom.”
Scotland’s chief statistician today published Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) 2018: Highlights from Scotland’s Results.
The main findings are:
- Scotland’s performance in the Pisa assessments was above the OECD average in reading and similar to the OECD average in maths and science. In the previous survey in 2015, Scotland was similar to the OECD average in reading, maths and science.
- Scotland’s own overall performance compared to 2015 improved in reading and was similar in maths and science. Performance in reading is now similar to 2012, 2009, 2006 and 2003, but lower than 2000.
- In science, Scotland’s performance was similar to 2015, but lower than in 2012, 2009 and 2006. In maths, Scotland’s performance was similar to 2009, 2012 and 2015.
- The proportion of students performing at the highest levels of achievement (“Level 5 and above”) were higher in Scotland than the OECD average in reading and similar in maths and science. The proportion of pupils performing at the lowest levels of achievement (“below Level 2”) were lower in Scotland than the OECD average in reading and similar in maths and science.
- The gradient and strength of relationship between reading performance and social background was similar to 2015, and remains lower than the OECD average. The strength of relationship between performance and social background in reading and maths was lower than the OECD average in 2018.
The Pisa data can be viewed here.
The Scottish government report can be found here