OECD report misinterpreted

4th April 2008 at 01:00
A view seems to be emerging that the recent OECD report on Scottish education has shown that Scotland has a notably large gap in attainment between low and high achievers when compared with the countries which the Scottish Government has chosen as the "benchmarks".

This has been expressed in the pages of The TESS, and in some seminars. The report shows no such thing.

In the PISA studies on which it draws, Scotland has one of the lowest gaps in attainment, and is best in this respect in mathematics. If we compare the average attainment in the top and bottom 5 per cent, we find that none of the "benchmarking countries" in either 2003 or 2006 has a gap that is larger than Scotland's to a statistically significant extent.

Even without that statistical caveat, only two countries do better: Finland and Denmark. The same is true if we compare the top and bottom 25 per cent. In reading, Scotland is not as well placed, but is inferior only to Finland, Denmark and Korea. The position in science is weaker but, in each comparison and for each year, Scotland is better than the OECD average, and is inferior only to four benchmarking countries.

The reason for the misinterpretation of the OECD report on Scotland is a badly-labelled graph on page 67, which shows the relationship of attainment to disciplinary climate but which, on a cursory reading, might suggest the attainment gap is wide.

Scottish education has its faults, but exceptional disparity of attainment is not one of them.

Lindsay Paterson, Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh.

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