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Pisa study reveals social rift, despite Russell's cheers

As the Education Secretary hails a `turned tide', the extent of the attainment gap is laid bare

As the Education Secretary hails a `turned tide', the extent of the attainment gap is laid bare

The tide has turned in Scotland's education performance compared to its international competitors, according to the Education Secretary.

Michael Russell said the latest figures for the three-yearly Pisa survey (Programme for International Student Assessment) showed the decline in Scotland's position had been halted.

The 2009 survey showed, he said, that the performance of Scottish 15-year- olds:

- has levelled off since 2006, bringing to an end six years of decline;

- is above the international average in reading and science;

- is at the international average in maths;

- and is the same as in England and Northern Ireland and better than Wales.

Mr Russell said: "The results show that we have now firmly halted the previous slide in performance.

"The Pisa results provide further cast-iron proof that for Scottish education, the tide has turned."

However, further analysis suggests that Scotland's apparent relative improvement in reading since 2006 is due to the fact that new countries were included in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) figure for 2009.

"If we were to use only those countries who were in the OECD at the time of the survey, and hence on a comparable basis to previous years, the mean score for reading in Scotland would again be similar to the average performance across the OECD," said Scottish Government statisticians in an analysis of Scotland's Pisa performance.

Of the 33 other OECD countries and three other UK administrations, Scotland was ranked somewhere between 7th and 23rd. That is, 16 countries had similar results to Scotland (including England and Northern Ireland), while six countries (Australia, Canada, Finland, Japan, Korea and New Zealand) had mean scores above that of Scotland.

A further 14, including Wales, were below Scotland. Three participating non-OECD states were also above Scotland - Shanghai-China, Hong Kong-China and Singapore.

A significant finding for Scotland was that the extent to which performance changed between pupils from different socio-economic backgrounds was greater than the average for OECD countries - 44 points in Scotland compared to 38 for the OECD. But the strength of the link between socio-economic factors and performance was similar to other OECD countries. In other words, while family backgrounds are as likely as in other countries to affect pupils, the effect is likely to be greater than in other countries.

The reading survey also showed that Scotland was below the OECD average in its "index of reading diversity" - only 33 per cert said they read fiction regularly, 18 per cent read non-fiction books and 7 per cent comic books several times per month; a smaller proportion of Scotland's pupils engaged in online reading than the OECD average, but a higher percentage chatted online or read emails than the OECD average.

In maths, Scotland's mean score was similar to the OECD average, but lower than its performance in 2003. Of the 33 other OECD countries and three other UK home countries against which it was measured, Scotland was ranked somewhere between 13th and 25th: 12 countries ranked higher, 12 were below (including Wales) and 12 were similar to Scotland (including England).

Of the non-OECD participating states, Hong Kong, Liechtenstein, Macao, Shanghai, Singapore and Taipei all scored higher in maths than Scotland.

Scotland's performance in science has changed little since 2006 and is again above the OECD average. Seven OECD countries scored above Scotland (Australia, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Japan, Korea and New Zealand); nine were ranked similar (including England) and 20 below (including Wales).

Among the non-OECD states, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore were ranked above Scotland in science.

The Pisa survey included 34 member countries of the OECD, including the UK, some of whose results were also broken down into the four devolved administrations of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland; a further 31 non-OECD countries or school systems - including Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore - also took part, bringing the total number of countries or school systems to 65.


The Pisa survey of Scottish 15-year-olds was carried out between March 2 and April 3, 2009; most pupils were in S4 and had been in school education since devolution. The Scottish fieldwork was undertaken by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER); 87 schools took part in the main sample - 2,631 pupils.

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