Scot­tish schools per­for­mance to­day ‘least clearly mea­sured since 1950s’

The Scotsman - - FRONT PAGE - By AN­GUS HOWARTH

Scot­land needs a ma­jor re­think in how it mea­sures ed­u­ca­tional per­for­mance, a group of ex­perts says.

In a pa­per pub­lished to­day, the Com­mis­sion on School Re­form ar­gues that a lack of re­li­able data makes it dif­fi­cult to tell whether stan­dards in Scot­tish school ed­u­ca­tion are ris­ing or fall­ing. The Scot­tish

Gov­ern­ment has scrapped do­mes­tic sur­veys of pupil per­for­mance and with­drawn Scot­land from in­ter­na­tional sur­veys ex­cept PISA, which was pub­lished last week and is now the only sur­vey of in­for­ma­tion about how stan­dards in Scot­tish ed­u­ca­tion com­pare with other coun­tries.

The pa­per said “there is much that is pos­i­tive about the cur­rent de­bate on school­ing in Scot­land”. But the CSR

– es­tab­lished by think tank Re­form Scot­land and the Cen­tre for Scot­tish Pub­lic Pol­icy – said we know “less now about the per­for­mance of Scot­land’s schools than at any time since the 1950s”.

Keir Bloomer, chair of the CSR, said: “The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has pro­claimed ed­u­ca­tion its high­est pri­or­ity. Other po­lit­i­cal par­ties share the

view that it is vi­tal to the fu­ture of the in­di­vid­ual and to that of so­ci­ety and the econ­omy. Yet there is le­git­i­mate con­cern about whether the sys­tem’s per­for­mance is sat­is­fac­tory.

“A de­bate rages about how our schools, teach­ers and pupils are per­form­ing, with many statis­tics ex­changed but few in­con­tro­vert­ible con­clu­sions be­ing reached. The con­tin­u­ing dis­agree­ments say some­thing im­por­tant and pro­foundly un­sat­is­fac­tory about the in­for­ma­tion that is avail­able. There ought to be a solid foun­da­tion of fac­tual in­for­ma­tion that will al­low con­struc­tive dis­cus­sion to take place. Un­for­tu­nately, no such foun­da­tion ex­ists. PISA is the only ex­am­ple of in­ter­na­tional com­par­i­son avail­able. Yet, even when the mes­sage was as damn­ing as last week’s re­sults, there is an of­fi­cial un­will­ing­ness to face facts.

“Has there been a nar­row­ing of sub­ject choice in S4? Has it been ac­com­pa­nied by a fall in stan­dards? Is per­for­mance in High­ers ris­ing or fall­ing? Is the pro­por­tion of young peo­ple leav­ing school with­out any qual­i­fi­ca­tions reach­ing an alarm­ing level?

“We know less now about the per­for­mance of Scot­land’s schools than at any time since the 1950s.”

Pro­fes­sor Lind­say Pater­son, co-au­thor and mem­ber of the CSR added: “The ad­vent of de­vo­lu­tion two decades ago raised hopes that pol­icy-mak­ing in Scot­tish ed­u­ca­tion would be­come more ev­i­dence-based, and that the ev­i­dence would be more re­li­able and rel­e­vant. In prac­tice, the ev­i­dence base for Scot­tish ed­u­ca­tion has de­te­ri­o­rated dras­ti­cally. Scot­tish ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy is now based on spec­u­la­tion, ide­o­log­i­cal whim, and par­ti­san ri­valry.

No worth­while pol­i­cy­mak­ing is pos­si­ble in such a con­text.”

The CSR called for four key steps to be taken re­store con­fi­dence in Scot­tish ed­u­ca­tional data and im­prove the sys­tem.

▪ A Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment com­mit­ment to max­imise the amount of ob­jec­tive data that is avail­able in re­la­tion to the per­for­mance of Scot­land’s school ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

▪ The in­tro­duc­tion of a new sam­ple sur­vey of per­for­mance in key cur­ric­u­lar ar­eas dur­ing the phase of broad gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion.

▪ Scot­land should re­join in­ter­na­tional sur­veys such as the Third In­ter­na­tional Math­e­mat­ics and Sci­ence Sur­vey and the Progress in In­ter­na­tional Read­ing Lit­er­acy Study.

▪ The gov­ern­ment should de­velop in con­sul­ta­tion a set of mea­sures of per­for­mance in the se­nior phase and at the point of leav­ing school that will prop­erly re­flect the suc­cess or oth­er­wise of the sys­tem in im­prov­ing the life chances of all young peo­ple.

Re­form Scot­land de­scribes it­self as “an in­de­pen­dent, non­party think tank that aims to set out a bet­ter way to de­liver in­creased eco­nomic pros­per­ity and more ef­fec­tive pub­lic ser­vices based on the tra­di­tional Scot­tish prin­ci­ples of lim­ited gov­ern­ment, di­ver­sity and per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity”.

PIC­TURE: GETTY/ISTOCKPHOT­O

0 Lack of re­li­able data makes it dif­fi­cult to tell whether ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards are ris­ing or fall­ing

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