Bean-counter uses widely rejected Pisa data to attack SNP education policy again

A person standing in front of a book shelf filled with books

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© Reform Scotland
Photographed in front of books. Ooooh, he must be clever.

In the Herald today:

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‘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.’

After 30 years in schools, teacher education and in university research, I can tell you that falling Pisa results in reading for middle-class children cannot be simply attributed to SNP education reforms such as the Curriculum for Excellence. The notion is mince. Even if we trust the Pisa scores, multiple factors, most of them unknown to Paterson and me, without doing proper research, will be responsible. Might increased social media use by groups able to afford it, be a more fruitful research avenue? Oh, you can’t blame the SNP for that?

Prof Paterson is a statistician with a background in agricultural and medical research using statistical methods. Not surprisingly he likes the Pisa numbers because they reduce the vast complexity of education systems to a handful of numbers that you can then pretend reveal something. The Pisa results are widely rejected and scorned by real educationists. In 2014, the director of the OECD called for the 2019 tests to be halted because of the damage they were causing:

Just search for Pisa tests rejected useless flawed or whatever. No credible academics believe in them in the way Paterson, BBC Scotland, the Herald and the opposition parties do. Wonder why?

As for Paterson’s agenda, search for his name curriculum for excellence and words like betrayal. Hey presto!

Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: the betrayal of a whole generation?

Footnote: At the end of 2013, as editor of a research journal, Paterson suggested that my research revealing BBC bias could be published, but only after the independence referendum!

Published by johnrobertson834

Retired Professor of Media Politics Not-for-profit independent political analysis

10 thoughts on “Bean-counter uses widely rejected Pisa data to attack SNP education policy again

  1. I noticed that the UK news at 6pm yesterday reported the UK figures, then good old RS bored into the Scottish specific ones. Not sure if this means the English ones weren’t particularly remarkable?
    There’s a couple of points I feel are never addressed
    Does the proportion of state v private schools affect these statistics?
    Is there any evidence to show that Scotland drops down the ranks because others are catching up rather than Scotland performance getting worse?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. One of the graphs I saw included the OECD average, set alongside individual country results. It showed a recent declining trend. Country results varied from year to year. The PISA data are not worth bothering about …. unless you are a propagandist casting around for something to attribute blame or incompetence to a rival. They were popular within council education HQ staff because they could use them to wield some kind of blame power over individual school managements.

    Of greater value are the reams (literally) of data produced after each examination diet in Scotland, but they have to be handled with a great deal of caution and, only in a minority of cases do these more rigorous data present something which is statistically significant for an individual school, and these can be positive things as often they can be negative. However, the Blame Stasi gloss over the former – “That is what things should be like, One swallow doesn’t make a summer. Don’t get complacent.” What they want are the NEGATIVES, so that they can put on a stern face. After a plausible explanation has been provided, they will remain silent for a while (they are coached to do this, because, those of us faced with it, sometimes feel impelled to fill the gap by saying something else, which, sadly, might be less carefully thought out, and might not even relate directly to the focus for the discussion. This sometimes provides an opportunity for the Blame Stasi to pounce. If they feel that they have found a single weak point, that is enough for they believe in the PERFECTIONIST FALLACY – if one thing, no matter how small or peripheral is doubtful, then the entire edifice must be flawed. If you show sufficient contrition they will with a condescending smile – “And you know, of course, that you can count on our complete support.” What that support is, is rarely clarified. We have their “SUPPORT” it is entire of itself. They have said it, so we have got it. If you ask for something specific, you are told that other institutions manage things well in this regard, so “you will have to manage within your existing resources It is about setting PRIORITIES.” And, of course, we have their ‘SUPPORT”, until they come up with other priorities (which they might or might not tell you about, never mind seek your view on them.)

    PISA is one of the prerogatives of the harlot – power without responsibility.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “”…cannot be simply attributed to SNP education reforms such as the Curriculum for Excellence. “”

    The Curriculum for Excellence was not an SNP reform. It had already been adopted by the Scottish Executive (Lab/LibDem) in 2004 The SE had carried out a review and commissioned research in the early noughties because it was felt that Standard Grades etc were no longer fit for purpose. The Pisa scores from 2000-06 even with all the caveats seems to bear that out.

    When the SNP came to power in 2007 work on the implementation of the CfE was well underway and continued under the SNP

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Legerwood, You are right to point this out with regard to Curriculum for Excellence. It has, since its inception had the support of all of the parties at Holyrood (with some reservations, particularly from the Tories). I attended the launch c2000, by the then Minister, Mr Peter Peacock.

      Unfortunately, as often happens to such initiatives, it was hijacked by a number of ‘careerists’ within the Scottish Education Department (as it was then), within the bodies like HMIE, Scottish Examination Board, council Education Departments, Colleges of Education. Undoubtedly, some changes were required in the education and, more particularly, the examination and inspection systems, but some saw opportunities to push ‘pet’ schemes.

      I recall a private conversation I had with a Director of Education, whom I knew at a personal level and he said that there are individuals who ‘have the ear of the Minister’ and who ‘see the adoption of ideas initiated by them’ as important for CVs and career advancement as essential. But, most importantly, they do not have to IMPLEMENT the plans, so they do not get the flak.

      I had been a bit sceptical until, shortly after, I attended a presentation by a civil servant within the Scottish Education Department – she had no background in education – and in one phase of her presentation, she spoke about ‘how exciting it is when people around the office generate ideas and get them adopted’. It was clear that the generation of ideas was an end in itself.

      It is a paradigm example of what is called ‘goal displacement’.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I meant to include an example – in one school there was a two teacher department, in which year after year, the examination results were always within the range for schools with the same band of Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. Usually, they were towards the top of the range. One year the results declined sharply and were statistically significantly low for the SIMD band.

    The reason was clear. The spouse of one of the teachers was diagnosed with a terminal illness and the teacher was off frequently to assist the spouse and, sadly, to grieve after the death. The other became pregnant and was absent on maternity leave. During that period, there was a series of temporary teachers, and, on some occasions, when there were no qualified teachers available, the classes were taught by teachers of other disciplines. Fortunately, in some cases, these substitute teachers had studied the subject in their degree, but did not have a teaching qualification. In other cases, the teacher had passed a Higher Grade in the subject many years before. Some parents had managed to get tutors privately, but, overall, despite a lot of effort, the pupils did not get continuous effective teaching. For the BLAME STASI, this was ‘not good enough; we are sure better arrangements could have been made.”

    The following year, when both teachers had returned full-time the results returned to within the usual range.

    Liked by 1 person

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