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The Real State of Scotland's Schools - Must Do Better 28/03/2007

Scottish Executive claims that Scotland's schools are among the best in the world are misleading and could lead to dangerous complacency, according to a new report by the Policy Institute.

Report author James Stanfield assessed Scotland's performance in domestic and international studies and found that our performance is at best mediocre, with many pupils still being left behind.

He reveals that, despite record spending, the percentage of pupils achieving five good grades at S4, inlcuding Maths and English, has shown little or no improvement for a decade.

Key points:

Funding per pupil has risen markedly between 1999 and 2006, by 50% across the board, while pupil numbers have fallen.

Despite this, attainment of five good grades at S4, including Maths and English, has remained stagnant at around 45% since devolution.

In only nine of the 32 local authorities are more than 50% of children achieving five good grades. Since 1999, 14 local authorities have actually experienced a decline or no change in the percentage of children obtaining them.

Equivalent figures in England have shown improvement, with English pupils catching up with Scots pupils on this measure in 2005.

International studies tend to show Scottish pupils performing badly in maths and literacy compared to rivals.

The exceptions are the OECD’s PISA studies, the basis of Executive claims for the quality of Scottish schools. But, on their own, these are prone to misinterpretation.

If Scotland is to compete in the 21st Century global economy, we need to double current levels of attainment.

The Scottish Executive should set out detailed plans of how it will achieve this. At the same time it should measure progress systematically with annual surveys of parents, employers and teachers.

Mr Stanfield said: "The majority of domestic and international evidence indicates, at best, that Scottish schools have plenty of scope for improvement.

"Despite their encouraging statistics, the PISA studies of 2000 and 2003 did not compare Scotland to other OECD countries on a like-for-like basis. This is liable to lead to complacency on behalf of policy makers in Scotland.

"Instead, they should focus on exam results, which give a much more comprehensive picture. The number of children getting five good grades at S4, including Maths and English, should now become the official benchmark by which the education system should be measured.

"Performance does not seem to be improving. The data on qualifications, exclusions, requirements for additional support and truancy all show only minor improvements or even decline. The steep rise in spending on Scottish schools appears to have had no effect yet.

"In absolute terms the figures on pupils gaining five good qualifications at S4 are worrying. With this in mind, the Executive needs to move quickly out of its comfort zone."
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