Scotland’s results in an international education ranking were “not good enough”, the First Minister has said.
This week, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released its latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings for 2022.
The study – which looked at 3,300 Scottish 15-year-olds – showed Scotland has declined in maths, reading and science since 2018.
Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth and the OECD pointed to the impact of the Covid pandemic, which forced the vast majority of pupils to learn from home.
During First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood on Thursday, Humza Yousaf was challenged on the rankings by both Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross and Scottish Labour counterpart Anas Sarwar.
Mr Ross said a “generation of young Scots” are “being failed by the SNP”.
Mr Yousaf responded: “Let me put it on record and let me be absolutely explicit – we do not dismiss, I do not dismiss, nor take lightly the Pisa results that have been released this week.
“We are reflecting on a poor set of results and the Education Secretary will make a statement next week on the issue of literacy and numeracy and what our response is to improving those outcomes.”
But he added: “There is no doubt, as the OECD makes clear in the publication, that Covid has had an impact.
“The OECD described it as their ‘Covid edition’.”
The First Minister went on to say some of the commentary around the results had been “unfair”.
Mr Ross accused Mr Yousaf of attempting to “reach for Covid as an excuse”.
He added: “This was a global pandemic.
“We know that countries in East Asia, where the pandemic began, are out-performing Scotland’s education system.”
Scotland’s education system was once the “envy of the world”, Mr Ross said, urging the First Minister to concede his party’s record on education is a “national disgrace”.
Mr Yousaf replied: “I don’t accept that.
“Douglas Ross, deliberately of course, is not listening to my previous response.
“I am accepting that the Pisa results were not good enough, even considering the impact of the pandemic – and the impact of the pandemic is not something that I’m using as an excuse, the OECD literally described the results as their ‘Covid edition’.”
Mr Ross also pushed the First Minister to scrap the Scottish Government’s flagship Curriculum for Excellence, claiming it “cannot be a coincidence” that Pisa results have declined during the period it was implemented – beginning in 2010.
But Mr Yousaf rejected the calls, saying some of the challenges in the education system “pre-date” Curriculum for Excellence.
Meanwhile, Mr Sarwar said the Pisa results demonstrate “16 years of SNP Government failure”, and claimed teachers and pupils are being “failed by this pathetic SNP Government”.
Mr Yousaf said Scotland’s score in reading is higher than the OECD average, but conceded “we have to make sure we are not on a trajectory of decline”.
He added: “Let’s not, for one set of data, suddenly dismiss the entirety of Scottish education.
“That would be unfair on the excellent job that our hardworking teachers do, but also the hard work that our pupils do day in and day out.”
After being accused of “destroying our once world-leading education system”, the First Minister accused Mr Sarwar of “hyperbole”.