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Scottish government reflecting on ‘poor set of results’ as country slips down education rankings

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Humza Yousaf has said the Scottish government is “reflecting on a poor set of results” after the country slipped down international education rankings.

The first minister accepted the results were “not good enough”, but stated the whole of the UK saw a reduction in scores across reading, maths and science.

He said he does not take the Scottish decline lightly and Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth will next week make a statement to parliament on what the responses will be to improving literacy and numeracy.

It comes after the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings from 2022, comparing the performance of 81 countries in key education outcomes.

The study – which looked at 3,300 Scottish 15-year-olds – showed Scotland has declined in reading, maths and science since 2018.

Scotland’s average reading score was 493 – higher than the OECD average of 472 points and above that of 24 other nations. However, it has fallen 11 points from the country’s 2018 score of 504.

For maths and science, Scotland fell slightly below the OECD average, scoring 471 and 483 respectively. It is the second successive decline, falling further on the 2018 ranking of 489 and 490.

At First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Mr Yousaf came under fire from Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar.

Mr Ross said Scotland’s results have “declined to record lows” and showed the “worst ever” performance in maths, science and reading.

He added that a generation of young Scots were being “failed by the SNP”.

Mr Yousaf responded: “Let me put it on record, and let me be absolutely explicit about it, that we do not dismiss, I do not dismiss nor take lightly the PISA results that have been released this week.”

He said the Scottish government was “reflecting on a poor set of results” but highlighted that the OECD cited the COVID pandemic as having had a negative impact – with 30 out of 40 countries seeing their results drop in maths.

But Mr Ross was quick to highlight that Andreas Schleicher, OECD education and skills director, had stated that attainment had been declining long before COVID, backed up by PISA studies.

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Mr Yousaf also defended Scotland’s investment in education, which has led to 94.3% of 16 to 19-year-olds in employment, education or training.

The first minister said: “That’s a record number, so to suggest that from one set of results that the education system is failing, as Douglas Ross is doing, is simply not true. And frankly, it’s an insult to the brilliant job our teachers so.”

Hitting back, Mr Ross responded: “It’s an insult for the first minister to say he is reflecting on this poor set of results when the PISA figures have been going down throughout the SNP’s time in office.”

He claimed that Scotland’s education system was “once amongst the best in the world”, adding: “But after 16 years of the SNP being in power, Scotland now ranks below Latvia for science, behind Estonia in reading, behind Lithuania in maths.

“So, will Humza Yousaf finally admit that the SNP’s record on schools is a national disgrace?”

Mr Ross also pushed for Mr Yousaf to scrap the Scottish government’s flagship Curriculum for Excellence, claiming it “cannot be a coincidence” that PISA results have declined during the period it was implemented – beginning in 2010.

But Mr Yousaf rejected the calls, saying some of the challenges in the education system “pre-date” Curriculum for Excellence.

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