MIDDLE-CLASS pupils are paying the price for sweeping school reforms, a leading educationalist has warned, as Scotland’s performance in maths and science hit a record low in international rankings.

Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at Edinburgh University, said the gap in reading level between rich and poor children has narrowed over the last decade partly because the performance of the better-off is falling.

He said: “Scotland’s overall performance is best described as stagnating in mediocrity.”

READ MORE: John Swinney defends Scottish education amid dip in science and maths performance 

HeraldScotland: Camley's Cartoon: Concern over health and education.Camley's Cartoon: Concern over health and education.

It came as international education tests reported record low results in science and maths among Scottish school pupils.

The 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) survey – which measures the performance of 600,000 15-year-olds worldwide – showed reading levels among Scotland’s children have risen since 2015, but maths and science have both seen slight drops.

However pupils performed substantially worse in all three subjects than they did when comparisons began around the turn of the millennium.

Meanwhile, efforts to close the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils appear to have stalled over the last few years.

England performed substantially better than Scotland in science and maths. Its reading score was similar to Scotland, although also slightly higher.

Education Secretary John Swinney said the results were “very encouraging”, while challenges remain.

But critics called the statistics a “humiliation” , with Scottish Tory stand-in leader Jackson Carlaw accusing the Scottish Government of a “litany of failures”.

Mr Paterson, who has previously raised concerns over the SNP’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) reforms, which were introduced in 2010, said the improvement in reading simply takes Scotland back to where it was about a decade ago.

He pointed to the socio-economic measures contained in the report. These show students from poorer homes do as well in England as in Scotland when it comes to reading, but comparatively well-off pupils do better in England.

Comparing the figures to 2009, Mr Paterson said Scotland had been less successful than England at raising the reading standards of poorer students, while better-off students have performed worse.

He said inequality had been reduced in Scotland by “bringing down the middle-class pupils as well as slightly boosting working-class pupils”.

In a damning assessment, Mr Paterson said: “In reading, Scotland has taken a decade of enormous upheaval in schools to get back to where it started. In mathematics and science, the decline continues.

“In England, the advance is steady in reading and mathematics; there is a weaker decline in science than in Scotland.

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"Despite a decade of austerity, students facing difficult socio‐economic circumstances do better in England than in Scotland.”

Pisa analyses social background using the Index of Economic, Social and Cultural Status (ESCS), which includes information such as parental education and occupation.

This showed an 86 point gap between the reading scores of the poorest and wealthiest pupils, implying a difference of just under three years’ schooling. This compares to an 83 point gap in 2015.

In maths, the gap has fallen from 87 to 83 points, while in science it has risen slightly from 97 to 98.

Scotland’s scores in the Pisa assessment were above the OECD average in reading and similar to the average in maths and science.

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.

Results in maths have fallen in every Pisa survey since a high of 524 in 2003. In science, Scotland's level of performance has also continued to fall over the last decade, with a score of 515 in 2006.

The relationship between performance and social background was similar to 2015, despite the Scottish Government ploughing cash into efforts to narrow this gap. However it was lower than it was in 2009.

Meanwhile, a questionnaire completed at the same time as the test showed Scottish teachers reported greater concerns than their colleagues down south over students not paying attention, truanting, displaying a lack of respect, skipping classes and intimidating and bullying others.

A third of Scottish secondary schools – 107 – took part in Pisa 2018, with 2,969 students successfully sitting an assessment last year.

The main comparisons are between Scotland’s results and those of the 36 OECD partners, alongside other UK countries.

The ranking system has been criticised by some in the education sector, and often causes political rows.

Scottish Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said the Pisa results represented “damning evidence revealing the full extent of the SNP’s shameful 12 years running down Scotland’s schools”.

She said: “These results are a humiliation for the SNP and they also mean that the potential of Scotland’s economy has been tarnished."

Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said: “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."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the results were “appalling”.

But Mr Swinney said: “These are very encouraging results and the latest sign that our education reforms are working. Scottish schools are improving and this international study confirms that.

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

He added: “The figures on social background also confirm that we are closing the gap between pupils from the richest and poorest backgrounds.

“Maths and science scores are stable at the OECD average, so we need to see the kind of improvement that we now see in literacy in these areas too. That is the challenge."

He continued: “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.”

During a difficult day for the SNP, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf also insisted there is no crisis in Scotland's prisons, after opposition MSPs challenged him over jails "bursting at the seams".