Keegan blames ‘nationalist’ policies for Scotland’s falling education scores

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan criticised Scotland’s Pisa scores (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan criticised Scotland’s Pisa scores (Jonathan Brady/PA) Education Secretary Gillian Keegan criticised Scotland’s Pisa scores (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The UK’s Education Secretary has warned Scotland’s school standards have “plummeted” because Scottish ministers prioritised “nationalist politics” above pupils.

Writing in the Scotland on Sunday newspaper, Gillian Keegan delivered a scathing verdict on First Minister Humza Yousaf’s education record.

Her comments follow the publication by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings for 2022.

The study, which looked at 3,300 Scottish pupils aged 15 and compares the performance with 81 other countries, showed decline in maths, reading and science since 2018.

Ms Keegan, a Chichester MP, said Scotland was “once the envy of the world for education” but warned that the latest Pisa results were a “tale of two records” with England “continuing to rise up the international rankings versus a failing Scottish system at the brink of collapse”.

She said: “This situation hasn’t happened by chance. Different parts of the UK have taken fundamentally different (approaches) to education.

“Under the SNP, standards have plummeted due to their progressive ideology they have refused to follow our lead on academisation, they have watered down the rigour of their exams and they have refused to open themselves up for scrutiny, pulling out of two international rankings.”

Scotland’s average reading score was 493 – higher than the OECD average but a fall of 11 points from the 2018 score of 504. The country also lags behind England’s score of 496.

For maths and science, Scotland fell slightly below average, scoring 471 and 483 respectively – the second consecutive decline as it fell further on the 2018 rankings.

Scotland placed third across the UK on the two subjects, behind England’s 492 in maths and 503 in science, with only Wales scoring less on 466 and 473.

However, decline was reported across the UK, with the Pisa report noting “unprecedented” results as the average score fell by 15 points in maths and 10 in reading. It said the Covid-19 pandemic was an “obvious factor”.

The UK Education Secretary took further aim at the Scottish Government in her column, writing that “Scottish children have been let down by the SNP”.

She continued: “The SNP have inflicted the worst ever education results in Scotland’s history for both maths and science on parents and pupils.

“I do judge the SNP on their record – and it is clear they have failed. Scottish schools need a change. They need a government who will put pupils and parents above their nationalist politics to ensure the next generation have a brighter future.”

In response, a spokesperson for Scottish Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth said: “The Scottish Government won’t be taking any lectures from Gillian Keegan about how to run our schools.

“Earlier this year Ms Keegan invited people to praise her approach to dealing with the issues associated with Raac (Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete) in England’s schools.

“This bizarre process involved no engagement with devolved governments and instead caused panic and alarm for parents and pupils alike.

“Ms Keegan would do better to focus on the areas she has responsibility for in England, rather than pontificating about schools outwith her jurisdiction.”