By Martin Tighe
The Scottish Government today faced a political onslaught after the release of an international report which showed that standards in Scottish education had fallen.
The triennial Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) concluded that the performance of Scottish students in the key areas of science, literacy and numeracy, had dropped significantly since the last report was published in 2013.
Education Secretary John Swinney addressed the issue by stating that there “is great strength in Scottish education” before accepting that “reform is essential”.
Despite Mr Swinney’s words, the political opposition in Scotland were quick to highlight where they believed the blame to lie. The criticism also came from the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association. Its president, Euan Duncan citing increased pressure on teachers and students as having an impact on the performance of students.
Mr Duncan added that: “Reductions in support staff and shortages of supply teachers have taken teachers away from their core function.
“There is no magic solution to improving the downward Pisa performance trend, but good starting points would be to provide teachers with very clear aims and sufficient resources with which to achieve them.”
Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, Iain Gray said: “SNP ministers should be ashamed of these results. For all their warm words about making education a priority we are seeing performance going backwards as Scotland drops down international league tables.”
The Scottish Conservative MSP, Liz Smith echoed that view saying: “The fact that the SNP has been so obsessed with independence has meant that it has taken its eye completely off the ball when it comes to education.
“Nicola Sturgeon says she wants to be judged by her performance on education but parents will rightly wonder what on earth her Scottish government has being doing for the last 10 years.
“Children going through our schools under the SNP are finishing their school careers less equipped in basic skills and performing less well than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK, and in a host of other countries across the world.”
The Scottish Green Party’s Ross Greer focussed on where the issue in the education was and said: “This drop in performance is clearly a concern. We need to listen to teachers and invest in what they know will make a difference – namely more staff and a simplified workload following years of changes, so that they have time to connect with their students.”
Tavish Scott of the Liberal Democrats centred on the SNP saying: “There is no escaping the fact that surveys show the SNP have overseen a worrying decline in our education system.”
While the political parties attempted to score points against one another, the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS) appealed for calm in the wake of the report. Its General Secretary, Larry Flanagan said: “The key issue with Pisa is the need to analyse the full range of data it makes available, rather than focusing only on snapshot headlines.
“It is significant, for example, that in the student surveys Scottish pupils report positive attitudes to learning and their relationship with the teacher. Politicians and the media should take care to avoid making snap judgements on these results.”
Looking forward, Mr Flanagan added: “The need for continuing investment in Education is made clear…the report shows that targeted resources do make a difference in addressing the impact of deprivation.
“The Scottish Government must ensure that schools are properly resourced and supported if we are to achieve the goals of tackling the poverty-related attainment gap and providing all young people with the chance to reach their potential.”
The results of the report will be debated later today at the Scottish Parliament when Mr Swinney will deliver his statement to the Chamber.