Scottish Education and Educational attainment. Scottish independence Podcasts.
AlasdairW, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Scottish Education – Attainment, Bananas & Praise

Our Scottish Education system in the news.

Last week I found myself sitting next to my local MSP on the train. We got chatting and I mentioned that I had been trying to get my head round the PISA results but had pretty well given up . He looked at me rather quizzically – I’m guessing that not many constituents have expressed an interest in PISA tests – then he said “Yes they’re complex though that doesn’t stop some people drawing simplistic conclusions from them”. I think I know who he means.

Anyway I persisted and eventually wrote the previous blog post on PISA. But now I’m wondering just how useful are these PISA surveys? And are there any good news stories about Scottish eduction? With thanks to Prof John Robertson and recent TalkingUp Scotland PISA posts for what follows.

No credible academic uses the Pisa scores

‘Pisa tests fail to recognise what’s important in education and should be ignored’

Times Educational Supplement, 2016

The criticism often levelled at the PISA is that the tests are too narrow and they attempt to homogenise education systems that are actually significantly different. OECD, who run PISA, agree to some extent and say that they were attempting to broaden the tests and to include a test to assess the ability to solve problems collaboratively.

OECD and Pisa tests are damaging education worldwide
The Guardian, 2014

It’s not the first time that educationists have criticised OECD PISA. In 2014 a whole swath of eminent academics laid out their criticisms. Here’s a couple of them

  • such testing dramatically increases reliance on quantitative measures. For example, PISA has been invoked as a major justification for the recent “Race to the Top”. Ranking takes place according to the results of tests widely known to be imperfect. See for example Finland’s unexplained decline from the top of the PISA table.
  • PISA takes attention away from the less measurable or immeasurable educational objectives like physical, moral, civic and artistic development

Attainment and Attainment Gaps – Bananas

How many bananas can you eat in one sitting? Let’s say that last year you could devour ten bananas. And let’s say that I could only devour five bananas. There was a clear 5 banana attainment gap between us. What’s more you needed to be able to eat eight in one go to get a banana eating certificate. I was lagging far behind.

But this year, I’ve been in training and I can now eat eight bananas in one go. OK! So now the banana gap is only 2 points! A decrease of 60%! And I now qualify for a banana eating certificate of attainment. Ah, but in the meantime, you’ve also been in training and you can now eat 13 in one go. So actually there’s still a five banana difference, even though the gap has shifted.

Surely it’s reasonable to give some weight to the actual levels of attainment? Because this year, many more certificates of banana attainment have been won! Attainment levels are actual numbers. The gap is relative. You could say it’s a moving feast. Literally in this bananas example.

Attainment – In Scottish schools

So here’s the good news. Attainment levels have also risen in our schools. No, not for banana eating. The Higher Certificate gap has narrowed by almost 1% to 16% from 16.9% in 2019 and crucially participation by the most disadvantaged has climbed.

At SCQF level 7 (Advanced Higher), the gap in 2009/10, two years after the SNP first came to power, was 24.1 and by 2021/22 it was 22.2, though down from 25 in the previous year.

But more important the most disadvantaged group at this level was increasing in size dramatically. In 2009/10 only 4.7% of those in the most disadvantaged 20% had achieved at this level but by 2021/22, the figure was 10.3%, more than doubling in only 12 years. 

So yes, there is a lot still to do. There are improvements to be made. But last year the number of kids from deprived backgrounds who earned themselves Advanced Higher is double what it was a decade ago.

If you want to find out more head over to TalkingUp Scotland Proper Tests Show Real Progress in Scotland’s Schools

Attainment – The House of Lords view of English Secondary Education

The House of Lords thinks the English curriculum is too dependent on learning by rote, academic learning, and written exams. If you read the previous blog post, you’ll know that it is exactly those kinds of educatioaln outcomes that PISA is criticised for.

The Lords are calling for an urgent overhaul of secondary education in England. They say secondary eduction needs to help pupils develop a broader set of skills that will better meet the needs of a future digital and green economy. They say there should be more opportunities to study creative, cultural, vocational and technical subjects. For more see this article in The Guardian, 12 Dec 2023

Attainment – My Job Scotland

I’ve got friends who are teachers. It’s a rewarding job. It’s also a very tough job. Most of us have a story about a particular teacher whose efforts and encouragement made a difference for us. Our kids’s futures depends on attracting and keeping good teachers in our schools.

Some of those teachers might move up from England…. at least according this extract from My Job Scotland, the website for the public and third sector jobs in Scotland. This is a quote from their section called Classroom Differences: Scotland vs. Elsewhere

If you currently teach in England but are ready for a change, Scotland could be the place for you. It’s as familiar as the rest of the UK but Scotland has an education system that focuses on supporting both teachers and students. Keep reading to learn the benefits of teaching in Scotland vs. Elsewhere , from teacher-friendly legislation to student-focused classrooms.

The Lords didn’t mention the Scottish education system but maybe they should have.

OK, I’ll leave it here. Except to ask how much of this information did you see on the BBC or the mainstream media?

Have a look at our other blog posts using TalkingUp Scotland data.

By the way, I learnt in classrooms that looked very like this. We didn’t have dunces caps though. But yes, the blackboard brush did occasionally fly over the room! Ach, it didnae dae me ony harm…

Scottish Education and Educational attainment. Scottish independence Podcasts.
AlasdairW, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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