SNP education chief Jenny Gilruth faces a challenge to turn Scotland’s education performance around after a global study ranked pupils behind their counterparts in England.
Scotland’s performance across all three areas covered by the “Pisa” report slumped to their lowest ever level.
It is a major test for Ms Gilruth, the Fife MSP who was appointed to the senior schools role in March this year.
The former Glenrothes teacher said lessons would be learned from the report. But Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Murdo Fraser said pupils had been let down by consecutive SNP education secretaries.
Scotland’s average reading score was 493 – higher than the average of 472 points and higher than 24 other nations looked at by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
However, it has fallen 11 points from the country’s 2018 score of 504 and behind England’s score of 496.
In maths and science, Scotland lags behind England and Northern Ireland with the score declining for the second consecutive year.
Scotland lags behind England and Northern Ireland
Pupils performed below the OECD average, scoring 471 and 483 for maths and science respectively.
Only Wales performed poorer. Scotland was ranked third in the UK, falling 20 points behind England’s score of 503 in science.
The OECD report notes that the results are “unprecedented”, with the average performance falling by 15 points in maths and 10 in reading.
Around 3,300 Scottish 15-year-olds were assessed in the study, which compares 83 countries. A full breakdown is expected later.
The study found: “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 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.
He said: “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.”
Scottish Government education secretary Ms Gilruth said there would be “key learning” taken from the report.
She 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.”
Criticism of SNP education record
She added that wider evidence, including 2023 national qualification results, indicated an “ongoing recovery”.
But opposition MSPs were highly critical, saying children and young people had been failed by the SNP government.
Scottish Labour education spokesperson 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 time for warm words is over – too many young people have been failed by the SNP.”