Education Secretary admits Scottish education system needs change

By Martin Tighe

The news that Scottish students have fallen behind in performance over the past three years has provoked strong reactions from the Scottish Government and Education groups.

The latest survey conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that our students performances in numeracy, literacy and science have dropped compared to the previous results from 2013.

The figures from the Programme for International Assessment (Pisa) which collates the performance of 15-year-old students in 72 countries concluded that Scottish students performed significantly worse than they previously did in the three areas tested.

The report said: “Compared to 2013, a greater number of countries performed significantly higher to Scotland.  There was a small increase in the number of countries similar to Scotland and a decrease in the number of countries below Scotland.”

The news will be of great concern for the Scottish Government as there has been a significant push to implement the new Curriculum of Excellence throughout the school system.  Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney realised the impact of the report: “There is great strength in Scottish education but these results underline the case for radical reform of Scotland’s education system.

“The results undoubtedly make uncomfortable reading but they contain a plain message: we must continue to make the changes that are necessary to strengthen Scottish education.”

Mr Swinney, however, did attempt to quash fears that the government were not aware of a slip in standards: “We must recognise that while Pisa is only now being published, it dates from the period in which our own statistics on literacy and numeracy were published and prompted our current programme of reform.  Both sets of figures tell us the same thing.  Reform is essential.

“That is why last year we launched a comprehensive programme of reform, based firmly on the independent findings of the 2015 OECD review of Scottish education.”

That positive view was not shared by others in the education system.  Ken Bloomer, chairman of the Commission on School Reform, said: “It is no longer credible to describe Scotland’s education system as world-leading.

“There is a critical and and urgent need to examine how Scottish education is run and the Scottish Government’s stated intention to empower teachers, parents and schools must be matched by action.”

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