Education Secretary John Swinney has said Scottish education is “on the right track” despite official figures showing a slight downturn in science and maths.

PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) statistics, which record the performance of 600,000 15-year-olds from across the world, were released on Tuesday.

READ MORE: International tests see record low results for Scottish school pupils 

They show that in 2018, Scotland achieved a mean score of 504 for reading, up from 493 in 2015; 489 for maths, down from 491 in 2015, and 490 for science, down from 497 in 2015.

A science lessonScotland’s performance in science was lower than 13 countries including England (Ben Birchall/PA)

With the rise in performance for reading, Scotland returns to a similar level recorded in 2012, when it was 506.

Canada (520), Estonia (523), Finland (520), Ireland (518) and Korea (514) and England (505) had a higher level of performance than Scotland.

In maths, performance dropped slightly on the 491 figure in 2015 and is at its lowest level, having fallen in every PISA survey since a high of 524 in 2003.

A total of 18 other countries recorded a higher performance than Scotland in maths, including England (504) and the UK as a whole (502).

In science, Scotland’s level of performance has also continued to fall over the last decade, with a score of 497 in 2015 and 515 in 2006.

The performance of Scotland in this category was also lower than England (507) and the UK as a whole (507).

Education Secretary John Swinney hailed the improvement in reading, while acknowledging there is “plenty of work still to do”.

“These are very encouraging results and the latest sign that our education reforms are working,” he said.

“Scottish schools are improving and this international study confirms that.


“Reading underpins all learning and the sharp rise in performance is good news.”

The Deputy First Minister added: “There is plenty of work still to do to improve Scottish education but today’s report should give people a strong sense that we are on the right track, making substantial progress and seeing results where it counts – in the classroom.”

Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith called the statistics “damning” for the SNP’s record on education.

She said: “Nicola Sturgeon asked to be judged on education. This summer saw the fourth consecutive year of decline in Higher pass rates and now the SNP is presiding over the worst ever PISA results in both maths and science.

“In reading, where it should be acknowledged that there is encouraging improvement since 2015, the score is still lower than the 2012 result and considerably lower than the score in 2000.

READ MORE: Scottish university launches probe after students trapped in lift overnight

“Nicola Sturgeon’s obsession with a second divisive referendum has come at a high cost to our schools.”

Scottish Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said Mr Swinney and Ms Sturgeon were refusing to listen on STEM subject warnings.

He said: “While Nicola Sturgeon tours the TV studios and election debates boasting of her supposed achievements, the reality is that her so-called priority of education continues a slow decline on the SNP’s watch.

“The small improvement in reading is welcome but further falls in maths and science are alarming.

“In every area, performance has deteriorated under the SNP.

“John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon have been warned again and again that we have a problem with STEM subjects being squeezed out of the curriculum but they refuse to listen.”


Scottish Greens education spokesman Ross Greer said: “Years of budget cuts, thousands of lost teaching and support staff and a near total failure to support children with additional needs are at the root of many of the problems our still relatively robust education system now faces.

“The major barrier now is an SNP Government unwilling to address these problems and which is instead still pursuing governance reforms so unnecessary, unwelcome and unhelpful they couldn’t even get them through Parliament.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “John Swinney can’t hide from these appalling results.

“Scotland used to have one of the best education systems in the world but under the SNP its now just average.

“Nicola Sturgeon once claimed education was her top priority, but nobody is now in any doubt that the SNP will always put independence first no matter the cost.”