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Sum achievement: Scots pupils best in UK at maths and reading

Scotland outperforms other UK countries in core school subjects, according to a major world study.

The survey of 15-year-olds puts Scotland at the top of the list for reading and maths when compared with England, Northern Ireland and Wales, the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) shows.

But for science, Scotland was marked slightly behind first-placed England.

The research, run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), uses a points system to rank 65 countries against each other and also looks at countries such as Scotland which are part of larger states.

For maths, Scotland scored 498 points, four higher than next-placed England.

For reading, the country scored 506 points, six higher than England.

Scotland scored 513 points for science, behind England which scored 516.

Wales performs worst across the three subjects, the research shows.

The tables are based on data from 510,000 students across the participating countries in 2012.

China tops the league which is dominated by countries from the Far East.

The UK overall is in 26th place for maths, 23rd for reading and 21st for science.

Minister for Learning Alasdair Allan pointed to Scotland's performance against "significant world economies".

He also spoke of evidence of an improvement between children from different economic backgrounds.

"Scottish school attainment remains strong, particularly in science and reading," he said.

"We are performing at least as well as a number of significant world economies across all three areas, reinforcing our international standing in education. There is also clear evidence that the attainment gap is being addressed with a reduction in the variation in performance between those pupils classed as disadvantaged and those who aren't.

"Today's figures follow a record 89.5% of school leavers remaining in positive destinations and Scotland's best ever exam pass rates from earlier this year. And while we know that Scottish education is good, we want it to get even better."

The new Curriculum for Excellence will see continued progress, he predicted.

"I also want us to try and usefully learn from countries that have improved their standing such as Poland, and who have full control over their own welfare system," he said.

"Social deprivation has clear links to closing the attainment gap and I want every young person in Scotland to have the best opportunity to succeed in learning, life and work. Support has been put in place to help our teachers do this and in years to come I hope to see Scotland's already excellent reputation for education enhanced still further."

Kenneth Muir, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, said teachers are performing well in a challenging environment.

"Ultimately, league tables such as these do not show the hard work and skill that goes into teaching children and young people and it is important that the commitment of Scotland's teachers does not go unrecognised," he said.

Teaching unions urged caution in interpreting the results, with EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan questioning whether like was compared with like.

"The circumstances in different countries vary widely and individual nations take significantly different approaches to education in terms of how schools are organised, funded and run," he said.

"There is also concern that, in some countries, a heavy emphasis is placed on preparing pupils to perform well in these tests specifically to boost Pisa rankings.

"In Scotland, we have rejected this damaging 'league-table' approach which focuses on measuring performance in certain narrow areas of the curriculum."

Alan McKenzie, acting general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said: "These studies have become little more than an invitation to beat ourselves up unnecessarily.

"The focus only on narrow performance outcomes in three areas merely encourages certain nations to concentrate on the rapid ascent of the league tables without reference to the wider exercise of good educational practice."

Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said: "These figures mask substantial problems with some of our poorest children leaving school with no or few qualifications. For too many of our young Scots, contemplating college or university is not even a realistic prospect. We need to change that and address the poverty of ambition which continues to exist in too many of our communities."

Conservative education spokeswoman Mary Scanlon said: "We need to have a really hard look at why other countries are doing better and what it is we can do to match or even exceed that.

"Scotland's performance is generally in line with the OECD average and while we've made small gains in reading and addressing inequalities, we've actually slipped in science and maths."

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