THE mass bulk of data that accompanies the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) results will require more than quickfire political soundbites to digest.

However, there are some interesting snippets relating to the performance of the sample of Scotland’s 15-year-olds this time round.

The discourse of negativity that swaddles Scottish education currently means, of course, that the drop in the scores for Mathematics (491 to 489) and in Science (497 to 490) will be highlighted, and, indeed, the data is unimpressive at first reading.

Yet, as the tests vary from diet to diet, and so are variable, a better measure may be that of comparability between jurisdictions.

In that data set, in Mathematics, Scotland sits 31st out of 79 participating countries compared with 28th out of 72 last time round; and in Science sits at 29th out of 79 as opposed to 25th out of 72 last time.

The picture there is more flat, albeit with a dip in relative position for Science.

On reading, the story is quite unexpected.

The raw score has risen from 493 to 504 this time, and the relative position in the table from 26th out of 72 to 15th out of 79, a significant and unheralded rise.

Time and energy are needed to explore the data further and this uneven picture unfortunately does not seem to be capable of telling us very much in general terms about our curriculum, although there is food for thought within these three subject areas, certainly.

Professor Donald Gillies,

Dean of the School of Education and Social Sciences,

University of the West of Scotland.

RATHER like the annual jamboree when the school Higher results are published in Scotland, the Pisa results this year are obviously causing a significant backlash as education is a major devolved issue (“Scotland is now ‘stagnating in mediocrity’ claims professor”, The Herald, December 4).

Since the 15-year-old pupil cohort changes every year it would perhaps be more meaningful if we followed the results of the same class of pupils as they progressed in age through their schooling.

The added value of their education would then be more apparent.

However, it is not the results themselves I found of most interest, but the attitudinal factors contained in the Pisa report.

I note, for example, that in Germany and Japan only about one third of the students stated that they competed with their schoolmates, compared with an average over the whole survey of 50 per cent.

Perhaps worthy of note is the fact that when students undertaking the survey were asked the same question in the UK and the USA, two thirds stated that they did compete.

It may be that our education system should look at the ethos it promotes in this regard.

Are we putting our 15-year-olds under stress to compete with the rest of the class, or should we be encouraging more co-operative learning?

Many disadvantaged young people, especially in our cities, live in dysfunctional family environments and the last thing they need is to move from one stressful situation to another.

Bill Brown, Milngavie.

I WAS impressed when Nicola Sturgeon vowed that the days of disadvantaged children in Scotland enduring a second-rate education were numbered and that she wanted to be judged on the success or failure of her attempts to eradicate this disgrace.

I was less impressed when we were pulled out of virtually every test which would have allowed this attempt to be judged.

Out went our participation in TIMSS, the world’s longest-running, large-scale international assessment of maths and science.

We then exited both PIRLS, which monitors reading, and the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy.

Only Pisa remains to indicate our lowly international ranking in the key subjects of secondary school education.

The Pisa results show Scottish reading has marginally improved from its dire position in 2016 but is still far below 2000.

Science and maths continued the steady decline of the last decade.

Even in this age of grade inflation, Ms Sturgeon merits a D-.

Dr John Cameron,

St Andrews.

“LET me be clear – I want to be judged on this” said the First Minister in August 2015, relating to the Scottish education system.

As much as Ms Sturgeon loves to tell us all how much better we are than our neighbours in England, there is no hiding behind this argument today as the performance in language, maths and science in England has surpassed Scotland from the Pisa test.

The SNP are failing our future workforce; we will have children who will not be able to make up for the failing education system they are subjected to.

John Swinney tells us that more has to be done.

The SNP have been in power since 2007.

They have had more than enough time to improve the system but are clearly not competent enough to do so.

Jane Lax,