Survey opt-out comes under attack

13th August 2010 at 01:00

Academics have reacted angrily to the Scottish Government's decision to pull out of two international surveys into maths, science and reading achievement, with one describing the move as "a betrayal of Scotland's distinguished history of comparative research".

Scrapping the surveys would result in the loss of "one of the main research tools we have to understand Scotland's place in the world", said Lindsay Paterson, professor of educational policy at Edinburgh University.

The Scottish Government announced last week that it is to withdraw Scotland from the PIRLS and TIMSS surveys, which study progress in reading and trends in maths and science. It will, however, continue to participate in the OECD's PISA international education survey.

Professor Paterson argued that Scotland was at the forefront of the development of international comparative surveys in the 1930s, and the country's involvement, pre-dating devolution, gave it "a distinctive international profile".

Accusing the Government of lacking ambition, he said: "The two (surveys) from which we are about to withdraw are the ones that in the past have shown Scotland in the least favourable light and the one we are continuing to participate in shows Scotland to have moderately respectable attainment."

Sue Ellis, a literacy expert at Strathclyde University argued that it was a bad time to scrap PIRLS because of the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence and its focus on literacy.

"PISA is just a snapshot of literacy achievement but PIRLS looks at the aspects of the curriculum that seem to be working. It is of use not just to academics but curriculum designers. It was PIRLS that pointed out that Scottish children's enjoyment of reading was not as strong as in other countries."

Headteachers welcomed the move, however, saying it was "eminently sensible".

International surveys involved "a lot of bureaucracy" and were not pertinent for individual schools, said Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland. "It's about balance - PISA will give us that information and that's fine."

Education Secretary Michael Russell said withdrawal from PIRLS and TIMSS would save pound;800,000, reduce bureaucracy for teachers and bring the country into line with the UK's other devolved administrations.

But Scottish Labour accused him of attempting to "hide his failures" by opting out of the two surveys.

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