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Scots pupils are falling behind English, says think-tank report- Scotsman

Fiona Macleod, The Scotsman, 11 November 2009

Scottish schoolchildren are continuing to trail behind students south of the Border despite massive financial investment aimed at helping them achieve better grades.

The conclusions from Reform Scotland, an independent think-tank, claims the school-leavers\’ exam results have flat-lined over the past decade compared with England, where results have steadily improved.

This is despite spending per pupil in Scotland increasing by more than 50 per cent in real terms since 1999, implying a "major fall in productivity in the schools sector".
The report says: "It is clear that the additional money has not been spent to good effect in Scotland."

According to the report, the proportion of pupils getting five "good" grades by age 16 this year grew by 1.4 per cent in Scotland, against 2.1 per cent in England.

The report calls for a reform of school education and demands that the Scottish Government publishes school league tables based on the number of pupils gaining five good Standard grade passes in subjects including maths and English.

However, teachers dismissed the report as a poorly disguised assault on the Scottish comprehensive system.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of Scotland\’s biggest teaching union, the EIS, said: "In England, schools are still judged on the flawed and overly-simplistic league-table approach which has been removed in Scotland.

"South of the Border, this has led to pressure to teach to the test on a narrowed curriculum, and rising rates of exam passes have prompted media claims of grade inflation and \’dumbing down\’ in order to ensure higher pass rates which look good on league tables."

And Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers\’ Association, said that the report neglected to include equivalent figures for spending on English schools.

She said: "Perhaps this was because the comparisons don\’t bear scrutiny over the full ten-year period.

"The presentation of the figures suggests that all of this money was spent on teaching and learning, a naïve and somewhat ridiculous presumption. It fails to explain the reasons for the increased spending – the fact that after decades of neglect Scotland\’s schools were in a shocking state, many simply not fit for purpose and others in such poor repair demolition was the only possible solution."

She also claimed the think tank had strong Conservative links, adding: "Having the courage to make an honest statement of their political persuasion would, in our view, give more honour to the members of this group and their pronouncements."

The report comes just weeks after leading political economist John McLaren warned that exam achievement had not improved since devolution.

The honorary research fellow at Glasgow University also cast doubt on the SNP\’s key policy to reduce class sizes as a "red herring". He said: "There is little evidence the policy has any impact and, even if it did, it would be expensive and could probably be produced some other way."