Scotland's education ranking falls in wake of Covid pandemic

Scotland ranked behind England in all three categories - but maintained its international standing.

Scotland’s performance in a global education study has fallen slightly following the “profound impact of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

While the country’s reading ability remains above average, its maths and science scores fell for the second time in a row.

Scotland ranked behind England in all three categories. Wales meanwhile ranked lowest across the UK nations. Scotland ranked above Northern Ireland in reading but fell below on maths and science.

The study represents a long-term decline in Scotland’s international education performance.

Across the UK, the research found high levels of food poverty with 11% of 15-year-olds skipping a meal at least once a week due to a lack of money.

Education secretary Jenny Gilruth said the country has maintained its international standing in the 2022 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study of maths, reading and science.

Jenny Gilruth
Jenny Gilruth said Scotland maintained its international ranking as global performance fell in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The study is an important test but has many critics within education.

It comes as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published the latest rankings, which compares the performance of 81 countries in key education outcomes.

Scotland’s average reading score was 493 – higher than the OECD average of 472 points and higher than 24 other nations.

However, it has fallen 11 points from the country’s 2018 score of 504.

Across the UK, Scotland ranks second for reading, slightly behind England’s 496 score.

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

Scotland placed third across the UK on the two subjects, notably behind England’s 492 in maths and 503 in science, with only Wales scoring less on 466 and 473.

The OECD average for 2022 was 472 in maths and 485 in science.

There was concern about the negative impact that the use of mobile phones was having on pupils’ education, while a decline in parent engagement and teacher recruitment was also noted.

Around 3,300 Scottish 15-year-olds were assessed, with a full breakdown of figures expected later.

Gilruth said the Scottish Government and local authority body COSLA will have “key learning” from the report.

‘Unprecedented’ global drop in education performance

However, the report notes the latest results are “unprecedented” across the board, with the average OECD performance falling by 15 points in maths and ten in reading.

The report said: “In two decades of PISA tests, the OECD average score has never changed by more than four points in mathematics or five points in reading between consecutive assessments.

“This is what makes 2022 PISA results so unique. The dramatic fall in performance suggests a negative shock affecting many countries at the same time Covid-19 would appear to be an obvious factor.”

Gilruth said: “As is well understood, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on our young people and their experience of learning and teaching.

“Whilst every country in the UK has seen a reduction in its PISA scores across maths and reading between 2018 and 2022, there will be key learning for the Scottish Government and Cosla to address jointly in responding.

“Since PISA was constructed, wider evidence from both the 2023 national qualification results and the most recent literacy and numeracy data for primary show clear evidence of an ongoing recovery which we are determined to build on.

“Our participation in PISA provides valuable information to support educational improvement; this will be further strengthened by our decision earlier this year to rejoin the trends in international mathematics and science (Tims) and progress in international reading literacy studies (PIRLs).”

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