eaving aside the oft-quoted words of Disraeli that "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics", it is only fair to say that Government figures, particularly when they appear in league table form, are regarded with some suspicion. When statistics appear to put governments in a good light, they tend to be trumpeted to the media. Thus, last December, the Scottish Executive announced the results of the Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) survey by the OECD with the headline:
"Scottish education scores high in international report card". It went on to say that of the 15-year-olds surveyed across 41 countries, Scotland was significantly above the OECD average in maths and ahead of both the UK and England, and similarly strong in reading literacy and science. Peter Peacock proudly boasted: "Our pupils scored well and outperformed many larger, world-leading countries."
Since then, he has been eager to seek out countries of a similar size and profile to Scotland to set up a "benchmarking club". Yet, when invited to take part in a new international survey, this time of teachers' opinions, attitudes, qualifications and levels of support, the Executive has politely declined. Its argument that the exercise is of doubtful value, and basically too much time, trouble and money to be worth while, may well find favour among teachers already unhappy about the amount of red tape in their day.
Nevertheless, the decision does beg certain questions. The OECD wants to focus on continuing professional development and school leadership. These are two of the very issues in which the Executive's education department has been investing considerable effort and money in the past few years.
Granted, there are always dangers inherent in creating international league-tables comparing different systems which have developed from different cultures. But non-participation can only fuel the suspicions of those who might argue that Scotland is selecting those surveys which will portray it favourably.