Formula of failure for sciences

17th December 2004 at 00:00
Good news about the performance of schools is always welcomed as evidence of solid progress; bad news is usually presented as the prisoner of extenuating circumstances. So which is it with this week's plethora of data on schools? The first, school exam results, can be easily dealt with: still the victim of media league tables, they reveal nothing startling. The same schools remain at the "top", the same at the "bottom". The detailed analysis will reveal that some schools are punching above the weight they carry, while others coast too contentedly through their advantaged circumstances.

The two international studies, Pisa and Timms, are more difficult to unravel. It is to be hoped that the point has been taken on board that they are attempting to measure two very different things and are testing different ages. Inevitably therefore, the picture is mixed: we can conclude that Scotland is probably no more than "average" on a number of counts.

But, given the performance gloom that usually surrounds S1S2, it is worth highlighting the significant results for S2 maths and science reported in the Timms study.

Despite that, however, the picture which emerges from the AAP survey is more worrying, especially since it is our home-grown measure, it tests more pupils, it is not subject to the vagaries of international comparisons - and it is to be the basis of the new Scottish Survey of Achievement. The fact that almost nine out of 10 pupils fail to turn in a secure performance of more than 65 per cent at the key P7 and S2 stages, based on "modest tasks", demands action. Everyone appreciates that science has been a subject in flux, if not turmoil, for some years, and that it is to be a priority for curriculum reform. The fact that the results in P3 and P5 are better than in P7 and S2 shows that good work is being done. The reasons for that disparity should be the starting point for any analysis.

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