Rising up the rankings

11th June 2004 at 01:00
The first "good news" on the performance of Scottish pupils in comparison with other countries has emerged from a detailed analysis of test results in reading, maths and science.

But the figures from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) are four years out of date and Peter Peacock, Education Minister, urged schools to do even better.

According to the study of the results from 32 countries:

* Scottish pupils were in the top six in reading literacy.

* Scotland was among the top five in maths.

* Only 3.3 per cent of pupils failed to attain the lowest reading proficiency level, against the international average of 6.2 per cent.

* More than 40 per cent of Scottish pupils attained the highest two reading levels, which is 10 per centage points higher than the average and fifth in the rankings.

Science scores were not so impressive with Scotland coming ninth, although this is well above the average for the countries which mostly belong to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Scotland contributed more than 2,500 students to the 2000 study which covered more than 250,000 students.

The findings also reveal that only 13 per cent of pupils were at schools where the headteacher was concerned about the lack of educational material in the library, the lowest figure in all but two of the countries. And the number of computers available to secondary students is higher than in any other country.

Perhaps the most surprising finding, given that those taking part in the survey were 15-year-olds, is the strong showing which puts Scotland third among countries reporting the lowest levels of disruption.

There is something for everyone, however: a quarter of students in Scotland reported that, in most or every English language lesson, there is noise and disorder. And 65 per cent of 15 year olds attended schools where the headteacher said learning was being hindered by absenteeism.

School ethos also produces a mixed picture. Nearly three-quarters of pupils felt they got on well with their teachers and almost 90 per cent said they would receive extra help if they needed it. But, while 85 per cent of Scottish pupils felt they belonged in school, 56 per cent said they often felt bored there.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, commented: "These findings give us lots of reasons to be encouraged. We naturally take comfort from the support teachers give their pupils." But he felt the upbeat picture on pupil disruption may have changed in the past four years which had shown an increasing trend of violence.

Mr Peacock said: "The international PISA survey is a very important benchmark for us and how we are performing internationally. I want to see Scotland firmly in the top flight of nations, and with our performance improving all the time."

He pointed to the key measures being taken by the Scottish Executive to drive standards in the basics higher still - reductions in S1-S2 class sizes in English and maths, the national "building bridges" literacy project which twins secondary and primary schools to improve writing from P6-S2, and the appointment of three literacy and numeracy development officers to raise attainment.

Mr Peacock also singled out the home reading initiative which encourages parents to read with their children - if the PISA results are any guide, those who read a large amount of fiction and who spoke regularly with their parents scored highest in reading tests.

Reading non-fiction, including sources on the internet, also helps and the Scottish analysis notes: "Only the reading of comics failed to have a positive correlation with reading scores."

The PISA study is taking place in three stages. The first results from 2003 will be reported in December and the third test will take place in 2006.

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