Anyone familiar with inspectorate reports will not find anything surprising in the OECD report published this week (p1 4). We know about the tailing-off in performance after P5, about the negative impact of deprivation on learning and achievement, that many young people are turned off by an unappealing curriculum and that there are wide regional variations in attainment.
The report also flags up the many strengths of our school system, which are no surprise either. It singles out for considerable acclaim the effectiveness of primary schools, the induction of new teachers, dedicated staff, school leadership, professional development and self-evaluation.
As an assessment by outsiders, however, the OECD report packs more punch than one from the inspectorate. It presents the challenges starkly and does a fine job in marshalling the relevant statistics. There will be gasps at the scale of the challenge when we learn that every third primary pupil and every fifth secondary student lives in poverty, and that every second S2 pupil in Glasgow underachieves in reading. It is indeed a stark reminder that "who you are" is more important than what school you attend.
But, in the guise of a candid friend, the team pulls no punches either. It lambasts the obscure way schools are funded, bemoans the lack of accountability over how these funds are used to improve performance, criticises the lack of autonomy for schools to innovate and laments the half-hearted attempts to tackle the effects of deprivation.
The Government will take heart from this report. Rhetorically at least, ministers have chimed with some of the findings, such as the need for early intervention, vocational skills for all and "outcome" agreements with authorities to measure their performance. But some fundamental shifts in attitude and practice will be required if that rhetoric is to fall in line with the OECD findings.