Scottish education 'much better' than England's? The stats tell a different story – John McLellan

The politicisation of Scottish public servants has been an unfortunate product of the divided times in which we live, and councils are not immune.

Wednesday, 25th May 2022, 4:45 pm
Whose education system is better: Scotland or England's? (Picture: Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images)
Whose education system is better: Scotland or England's? (Picture: Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images)

A training session on education for new Edinburgh councillors this week apparently began with a statement from the new director of education and children’s services, Amanda Hatton, that “Scottish education is much better than English education”.

As someone who was recruited from York, she is entitled to her views about the quality of schooling in England, but the comparison between the two does not stand up to scrutiny of such data as exists.

Scotland only participates in one international comparison, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which measures the capabilities of 15-year-olds in reading, maths and science.

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The scores for England and Scotland from the last round of tests are instructive.

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On reading, the two are comparable, with Scotland on 504 against England’s 505, both higher than the OECD average, but on maths Scotland’s 489 is lower than in 2012 and way behind England’s 504.

In science, it’s the same story, with Scotland’s 490, again below 2012 levels and lagging England by 17 points.

Questioned on her assertion by the new Conservative councillor for Portobello, Tim Jones, himself a qualified teacher, Ms Hatton said it was just her opinion and that Scottish education was more “holistic”, whatever that means.

But when an education director trots out glib claims about standards unsupported by even a cursory glance at the facts, we are entitled to be worried.