The time for “warm words” from the Scottish Government is over, Labour said as the country slipped down international education rankings.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings from 2022, comparing 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 above that of 24 other nations.
However, it has fallen 11 points from the country’s 2018 score of 504.
Scotland ranks second for reading in the UK, 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.
Around 3,300 Scottish 15-year-olds were assessed, with a full breakdown of figures expected later.
Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth said the Scottish Government and local authority body Cosla will have “key learning” from the report, but she added there is a clear indication of the “profound impact” the pandemic had on education.
The OECD report notes the latest results are “unprecedented” across the board, with the average performance falling by 15 points in maths and 10 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.”
Scottish Labour education spokeswoman Pam Duncan-Glancy said: “These results are a painful reminder of how children in Scotland are being let down by an SNP Government that is out of touch and out of ideas.
“Teachers, parents and pupils are held back by ministerial dither and delay and all of us will pay the price for the missed opportunities of a generation.
“The SNP has presided over falling standards and a stubbornly wide attainment gap – and all we’ve had is excuse after excuse from a party determined not to take responsibility.
“Pupils go to school determined to make the most of their future. They deserve a Government that is on the side of their ambitions.
“The time for warm words is over – too many young people have been failed by the SNP.”
Today’s PISA results make for grim reading.
They show that SNP inaction is holding young people in Scotland back and squandering their potential.
The saddest thing is that it’s not just numbers we see falling, it’s young people’s chances.
They are a painful reminder of…
— Pam Duncan-Glancy MSP (@GlasgowPam) December 5, 2023
Scottish Conservative education spokesman Liam Kerr said the figures are a “devastating indictment” of the SNP’s “long-term mismanagement” of education since taking power in 2007.
“Nicola Sturgeon claimed that education was her number one priority, yet on her watch Scotland’s performance in both maths and science has plummeted to its worst ever level and is way behind that of England,” he said.
“That’s a shameful legacy and just the latest example of the disastrous impact of 16 years of SNP rule.”
Ms 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 and progress in international reading literacy studies.”
Tony Buchanan, the children and young people spokesman for local authority body Cosla, said the results “must be seen within the context of the impact of the pandemic on children and young people”.
But he added: “It is clear that as an education system, there is the need for collective and collaborative effort to bring about the further improvements we all want for our children and young people.
“Local government is committed to working with our partners, including the Scottish Government, to better support Scotland’s children and young people. Further work will be needed to address longstanding recruitment challenges, particularly for Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.
“At the same time, we will need a continued focus on the programme of education reform – in line with recent reports on the curriculum, qualifications and new national education bodies – to support the best outcomes for all children and young people. “