Reform Scotland Research on Educational Attainment

Reform Scotland research shows that the performance of Scottish schools has not improved since devolution despite a massive increase in spending.

The most robust data on exam performance – unpublished by the Scottish Government – shows that Scottish schools have not improved under devolution. The most recent figures show a modest improvement, but confirm a flat overall trend of attainment by pupils at the end of compulsory education.

Meanwhile, spending per pupil has more than doubled since 1999, implying that the extra spending is not delivering value for money in terms of improved levels of educational attainment. On these measures, therefore, billions of pounds have been spent to little effect over the last decade.

At the same time, on the equivalent measure, attainment in England has seen a steady improvement, overtaking Scotland in 2007.

Policy makers in Scotland need to look seriously at reforming school education along the lines set out by Reform Scotland in Parent Power in January this year, which draws upon best practice from around Europe and beyond.

The data

The most robust exam measure of school attainment is not published by the Scottish Government, though it is collected by government statisticians at the behest of the Office of National Statistics. It measures the number of pupils who get five good grades, including in Maths and English, by the end of compulsory education in year S4.

This measure was established by educationalists in England as the best test of school performance because it includes all pupils, and includes the key academic subjects of Maths and English, thus eliminating any temptation to inflate performance by encouraging pupils to select ‘easier’ subjects or leave full time education altogether. It is used by the UK Government as the most important measure of school attainment.
Percentages of Scottish pupils with 5 good grades including English and Maths at the end of compulsory education:

1999 2000 2001  2002  2003  2004  2005  2006  2007  2008

47%  49%  47%  47%  45%   46%  46%   46%   44%    46%

Over the same period the equivalent English figures have shown a steady increase from 39% to 48%

(Source: Scottish Government schools statistics and Department for Children Schools and Families)

The definition of ‘good grades’ is either Standard Grade at 1-3, Intermediate 2 at A-C, or Intermediate 1 at A. These are the accepted equivalents of English GCSE grades A*-C.

At the same time, Scottish Government data shows that spending per pupil in both primary and secondary schools has more than doubled since 1999, from £2,092 in 1999 to £4,638 in 2008 for primary school pupils, and £3,194 to £6,326 for secondary pupils.

(Source: Scottish government schools statistics)

On these measures, that additional expenditure, worth billions of pounds in aggregate over the period, has not delivered value for money.

Reform Scotland’s recommendations:
• The Scottish Government needs to focus much more on output measures of the performance of Scottish schools. Publishing and using the measure of pupils attaining five good grades by S4 including Maths and English would be a good start.
• It’s clear that Scottish school education suffers from a major productivity problem. This and other measures show little improvement over the last decade despite major increases in spending. This implies a major unnecessary economic burden as well as missed opportunities for our children. The Scottish government should study best practice from abroad and consider reforms such as those laid out in Parent Power which extend parental choice