Scotland’s school standards have “plummeted” because SNP ministers prioritised “nationalist politics”, Gillian Keegan has warned after pupils recorded their worst ever results in an international study.
She said Scotland was “once the envy of the world for education” but last week’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study was a “tale of two records”.
While she said English pupils had moved up international rankings, standards had “plummeted” thanks to the SNP’s “ideology”.
An 18-point decline in maths
The PISA study of 700,000 15-year-olds across the world was conducted in 2022, the final calendar year of Nicola Sturgeon’s tenure as first minister.
In Scotland, it found an 18-point decline in maths since the tests were last administered in 2018, the equivalent of nearly a year of schooling. The score for reading dropped by 11 points – around half a year’s school work – and in science it fell by seven points.
English pupils again outperformed their Scottish counterparts in all three areas, with the gap growing since 2018. Northern Ireland also did better than Scotland in maths and science.
The global study, conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, also found that Scotland had the widest attainment gap between the wealthiest and poorest pupils for maths of all the UK home nations.
This is despite Ms Sturgeon having pledged to make it her mission to close the gulf in performance. She shied away from taking schools out of local authority control, as has happened in England.
‘They have refused to follow our lead’
Writing in Scotland on Sunday, Ms Keegan 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.”
She said that “Scottish children have been let down by the SNP”, with the Nationalists having “inflicted the worst ever education results in Scotland’s history for both maths and science on parents and pupils”.
She concluded: “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.”
Jenny Gilruth, the SNP Education Secretary, said: “The Scottish Government won’t be taking any lectures from Gillian Keegan about how to run our schools.”
She added: “Ms Keegan would do better to focus on the areas she has responsibility for in England, rather than pontificating about schools outwith her jurisdiction.”