Radio 4 Today with fake ‘Education’ Professor of Bean-counting to lie about Scottish Education

Prof Paterson with his state-of-the -art, quantitative research technology

Professor of Educational Policy at Edinburgh University, Lindsay Paterson is a statistician with a background in agricultural and medical research using statistical methods. He has absolutely no experience in teaching in schools or in teacher education methods. He has no experience of school management or of research into the curriculum other than in counting assessment data. He’s just a jumped up bean-counter. Despite that, he’ll turn up on request, rent-a-gob, to say something bad about any Scottish Government decision that involves numbers.

He’s been on UK Radio 4 before, bad-mouthing all of us.

Today, he told viewers in England, after praising Michael Gove, the simplistic lies they want to hear about the Scottish curriculum being based on skills rather than knowledge and the consequent poor performance in international tests such as Pisa and that SNP claims of attainment gap closing is ‘smoke and mirrors.’

So, quickly, on attainment gaps:

Primary school literacy and numeracy improvement reaches new high.

The poverty-related attainment gaps in literacy and numeracy levels across primary schools have seen the biggest decreases since records began, official statistics show.

The gap between the proportion of primary pupils from the most and least-deprived areas achieving expected levels has narrowed by 3.4 percentage points in literacy and 3.7 percentage points in numeracy, according to the Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels (ACEL) 2021/22. This marks the largest narrowing of the gap in a year since consistent records began in 2016/17.

There has also been a record increase in the proportion of primary school pupils achieving the expected levels of literacy (up 3.7 percentage points to 70.5%) and numeracy (up 3.3 percentage points to 77.9%).

But evidence from England where they have been responsible for educational attainment for 12 years:

The landmark study, based on research carried out for the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, found that disadvantaged pupils start school behind their better-off peers, and those inequalities persist through their school years and beyond – eventually having an impact on earnings.

The authors state there is overwhelming evidence that the education system in England leaves too many young people behind, and despite decades of policy focus, there has been little if any shift in the gaps in educational attainment between children from different backgrounds.

The report said: “Despite decades of policy attention, there has been virtually no change in the ‘disadvantage gap’ in GCSE attainment over the past 20 years. While GCSE attainment has been increasing over time, 16-year-olds who are eligible for free school meals are still around 27 percentage points less likely to earn good GCSEs than less disadvantaged peers.”

Then International comparisons such as Pisa.

From stewartb, here, in May 2022

When one examines the results of the last PISA assessment taking account of the OECD’s careful presentation of statistical significance one finds this.

On reading performance: there is NO statistical difference between the scores of England , NI and Scotland. All three, statistically, are ranked significantly higher than Wales.

On mathematics performance: England is ranked higher by a statistically significant margin. There is NO statistical difference between Scotland, NI and Wales.

But as today’s main blog post indicates, PISA is NOT the definitive, NOT the comprehensive, and certainly NOT a universally-endorsed gold standard!

But it has proved a convenient, endlessly-used hook on which to hang unwarranted ‘denigration’. Regrettably, voters who will never read the source material will not become better informed on the findings by relying on the public service broadcaster!

Then later in the month, also from stewartb:

This is from the considered writing of Henry Hepburn (4 December, 2019), news editor for the educational weekly newspaper, TES Scotland:


“Every three years, a new round of PISA scores is released into the world. While MANY QUESTION whether the Programme of International Student Assessment should have the level of influence that it does and how reliable the data is, there is no doubt that the results influence government policy. And when things go badly, that they become AMMUNITION to use against governments.” (my emphasis)  But Mr Hepburn’s ‘many question’ caution is putting it mildly!


Adverse criticism of PISA goes back some time. The Guardian on 6 May 2014 published an open letter to the OECD under this headline:

‘OECD and PISA tests are damaging education worldwide – academics: In this letter to Dr Andreas Schleicher, director of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment, academics from around the world express deep concern about the impact of PISA tests and call for a halt to the next round of testing’

The link below has the full text of the letter: it is worth visiting to check out the list of ‘expert’ signatories – extensive and impressive: I suggest ‘weighing’ this against BBC Scotland’s guest Mr Curran’s credentials for declaring “yes it is a crisis” based on PISA scores.


In a lengthy, damning critique, the letter states: “We assume that OECD’s PISA experts are motivated by a sincere desire to improve education. But we fail to understand how your organisation has become the global arbiter of the means and ends of education around the world. OECD’s narrow focus on standardised testing risks turning learning into drudgery and killing the joy of learning. As PISA has led many governments into an international competition for higher test scores, OECD has assumed the power to shape education policy around the world, with no debate about the necessity or limitations of OECD’s goals. We are deeply concerned that measuring a great diversity of educational traditions and cultures using a single, narrow, biased yardstick could, in the end, do irreparable harm to our schools and our students.”

The signatories also contend: “These developments (ones arising from PISA) are in overt conflict with widely accepted principles of good educational and democratic practice:

  • No reform of any consequence should be based on a single narrow measure of quality.
  • No reform of any consequence should ignore the important role of non-educational factors, among which a nation’s socio-economic inequality is paramount.”


In 2016 the TES reported a proponent of this action.


‘Countries should “IGNORE” the world’s most influential education rankings because they fail to measure what matters, an expert on the impact of globalisation on education has claimed. The idea of nations competing to reach the top of the … (PISA) league tables makes as much sense as university students competing to see who can drink the most beer, according to Professor Yong Zhao, from the University of Oregon in the US. He told TES: “You’re maybe the best drinker but you’ve got to think, ‘Is it good for you and does it matter?’”

According to Zhao, PISA homogenises education systems: ’We need creativity, not uniformity’.


The following perspective appeared in Forbes magazine under the headline: ‘PISA Scores Are Out. Ours Are Not Great. So What?’


It seems there is also lot of hand wringing in the US each time the PISA results are published. The author of the article (Peter Greene) argues: ‘PISA coverage tends to overlook one major question—why should anyone care about these scores? Where is the research showing a connection between PISA scores and a nation’s economic, political, or global success? What is the conclusion to the statement, “Because they get high PISA scores, the citizens of [insert nation here] enjoy exceptionally good______” ?’

The author asks: “Did US companies outsource work to India and China because of their citizens’ PISA scores, or because of low wages and loose regulation? Do we have the world’s most expensive health care system because of mediocre PISA scores? Which politicians have ridden to success on the PISA score platform pony? Are any geopolitical conflicts solved by whipping out the contending countries’ PISA scores for comparison? And is there a shred of evidence that raising PISA scores would improve life for US citizens (spoiler alert: no)?”


Closer to home, once upon a time (4th December 2013), the teacher unions in Scotland expressed their views on the status and significance of PISA results.


The EIS and the SSTA urged caution in how these data are viewed.  Whilst both unions believed that PISA data offered “some interesting areas for debate” they added “ITS WORTH IN MEASURING THE VALUE OF ANY COUNTRY’S EDUCATION SYSTEM IS LIMITED”. The unions’ 2013 statement goes on:

“The EIS and the SSTA urge the Scottish Government and Opposition Parties to GLANCE BRIEFLY at this data but continue to concentrate on the development of meaningful curriculum reform in Scotland aimed at the creation of a fair and just society.”

Commenting further, EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan noted at that time, “While this (PISA) report seeks to measure performance in school education there are SIGNIFICANT QUESTIONS OVER THE TESTING METHODS used to gather data and the degree to which like is being compared with like. The circumstances in different countries vary widely, and individual nations take significantly different approaches to education in terms of how schools are organised, funded and run.  There is also concern that, in some countries, a heavy emphasis is placed on preparing pupils to perform well in these tests specifically to boost PISA rankings.”

The Acting General Secretary of the SSTA at the time commented, “These studies have become LITTLE MORE THAN AN INVITATION TO BEAT OURSELVES UP UNNECESSARILY. While the scale of the exercise is immense given the number of nations involved the scope is limited, the focus only on narrow performance outcomes in three areas merely encourages certain nations to concentrate on the rapid ascent of the league tables without reference to the wider exercise of good educational practice. Yet again we are reminded of the need to measure what is valuable not value what is measurable.”

So a question today for the EIS and SSTA leaders, what has changed regarding the status and significance of PISA results since 2013?  Well, on the latest PISA results, the EIS response included (just!) this:


“The analysis of Scotland’s data from the … (PISA), published today, has highlighted the value of Scotland’s comprehensive education system. Data from the PISA survey indicates a SOLID PERFORMANCE overall, with IMPROVEMENT in reading and with results in maths and science HOLDING RELATIVELY STEADY.”  So, has the EIS not noticed the crisis of which Mr Curran writes and broadcasts on BBC Scotland?

The recent EIS statement notes that the PISA survey also “indicates that the gap in performance between the most and least disadvantaged pupils was smaller in Scotland than across the average of other OECD countries – indicating the Scotland’s comprehensive system offers greater equality of opportunity to pupils from all backgrounds.” But, but what about the ‘crisis’ ….?

And finally from the EIS on this: ”It is clear, however, that Scottish Education is actively working on the key elements identified by the OECD as necessary for continued improvement – tackling the impact of deprivation on educational attainment, ensuring high standards of teaching, and being concerned about pupil well-being.”


The TES reported the views of Mark Priestley, professor of education at the University of Stirling.


In a measured contribution to the debate over Scotland’s performance, firstly Professor Priestley is reported as stating: “.. we don’t have the evidence to say whether Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is responsible for the decline or otherwise in PISA results,” This seems in complete contrast to the views of Mr Stephen Curran.

Professor Priestley is reported as adding: ‘Today’s PISA results may have indicated some “slight improvements” in reading, although “maths and science seem to be SITTING MUCH WHERE THEY WERE”. This can’t be right – there is a ‘crisis’, someone on BBC Scotland told me so!

Also in the TES:


Andreas Schleicher, head of the Directorate of Education and Skills at the OECD – top official for PISA –  is reported as stating that the differences in both education approaches and PISA scores across the UK are marginal when set against the international picture.


Given Curran’s support for a ‘traditional’ approach to education and his endorsement of, and claims of early success for, the Gove reforms in England, it is interesting to note comments on the latest PISA results by the main union in England, the NEU.


Kevin Courtney its Joint General Secretary has said: “The findings from PISA 2018 ….. REFLECT A EDUCATION SYSTEM BEFORE THE MARKET REFORMS introduced by former Education Secretary Michael Gove and pursued by subsequent Secretaries of State.”

He goes on: “Each time the survey is conducted, a larger number of countries take part and therefore THE GLOBAL RANKINGS DO NOT COMPARE LIKE WITH LIKE. In addition, each PISA series focuses on a different learning domain – in 2018 it is reading, in 2015 it was science. The ‘league table’ element of PISA should therefore be TREATED WITH ENORMOUS CAUTION since the rankings are comparing different subjects among a different number of countries.  The OECD also point out that many of the changes in countries’ scores (and therefore their apparent ranking) are NOT STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT. This includes two of the three scores given to the UK.”


In November 2019, the TES reported the NEU teaching union’s joint General Secretary saying this on the impact of educational reforms: “I think we have to be cautious in attributing any reform in any national state, four years later, to a position in a league table, because the position on the league table is not just about the curriculum that’s taught in school or the way children are assessed.”


On PISA results, the General Secretary goes on: “It’s difficult to disentangle how much curriculum has played a part, how much exams and assessment have played a part, how much those parts of education policy actually played a part. I will say however that WHAT IS ABUNDANTLY CLEAR IS THAT GOVE’S DIRECTION OF TRAVEL IS COMPLETELY OPPOSED TO what the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is behind Pisa, is saying about what effective education systems should look like.”

And this view is supported by the OECD’s review of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence in 2015. In this the OECD endorsed the progressive nature of the ongoing process of reform in Scotland’s schools whilst challenging aspects of its implementation.


According to the OECD: “The Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is an important reform to put in place a coherent 3-18 curriculum. It privileges learning and a holistic understanding of what it means to be a young Scot growing up in today’s world.”


I cannot resist recalling comments in 2016 by a former education spokesperson for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party following the publication of earlier PISA results. Liz Smith MSP was quoted as saying: “These shocking statistics are a damning indictment of A DECADE OF FAILURE under the SNP.”


But then in response to a UCAS report also in 2016 on university admissions, the same politician claimed this: “Despite having OUTSTANDING GRADES, many Scottish students are finding it increasingly difficult to get into universities because of the constraints applied via the capping policy.”


So just to recap, the Tory position seemed to be that: (i) a decade of educational system failure – as evidenced by a set of PISA results, was (ii) delivering outstanding grades, and (iii) had led to an increasing demand for a university education – all at the same time!  Go figure! 

Let’s hope the new Tory spokesperson on education, Mr Jamie Greene MSP can make more coherent contributions to what is a necessarily ongoing debate over continuous improvement in Scotland’s school system.


8 thoughts on “Radio 4 Today with fake ‘Education’ Professor of Bean-counting to lie about Scottish Education

  1. An excellent piece of well sourced comment on a system of comparison that is well past its sell-by date.
    The early dismissal of Lindsay Patterson as having any relevant input is particularly laudable. He has been a self-appointed ‘expert’ commentator on Scottish education for far too long.
    Much of my career in Primary schools was shadowed by his shadowy take on what we were trying to do.
    He wouldn’t recognise a school in a deprived area bringing worth to the lives of pupils if they collectively stood up and smacked him in his sanctimonious kisser.
    I particularly commend your reminder that we should be engaged in measuring that which is valuable and not valuing what is (readily) measurable.
    Sadly the Jamie Greens of this world will hold dear to that which they knew in their own education (the didactic, authoritarian teacher pouring knowledge into the top-sliced heads of their captive audience) and continue their unthinking attack on a system that actually seeks to educate our young people through the empowerment of learning, discovery and personal development.
    Lindsay belongs in the camp of didactic teaching, of cramming and swotting.
    We want a citizenry that are thinkers, creators and contributors to our society.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Given your remarks, you may be interested in what follows (with my emphasis), not least because it is NEVER quoted by the corporate media or the BBC. It will become obvious why this is the case!

      Source: OECD (2021), Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: Into the Future, Implementing Education Policies, OECD Publishing, Paris

      ( )

      ‘PISA’s new global competence module aims to capture the capacity of 15-year-olds to examine local, global and intercultural issues, to understand and appreciate the perspectives and world views of others, to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with people from different cultures, and to act for collective well-being and sustainable development.’

      ‘SCOTLAND RANKED AMONG THE TOP-PERFORMING COUNTRIES IN GLOBAL COMPETENCE. ….. Scotland was the fourth top-performing country, behind Singapore, Canada, and Hong Kong (China), …’


      And finally the same report gives this endorsement: ‘Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) offers AN INSPIRING AND WIDELY SUPPORTED PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION. Its framework allows for EFFECTIVE CURRICULAR PRACTICES and for THE POSSIBILITY OF A TRULY FULFILLING EDUCATION FOR LEARNERS. Building upon ITS COMMITMENT TO EDUCATION QUALITY, Scotland can make adjustments within CfE’s flexible framework to achieve its potential for learners present and future.’

      The practice of gaslighting Scotland in order to damage the present Scottish Government – and by this means reduce momentum in growth of support for independence – means that few in Scotland will be aware of these positive judgements about education in Scotland.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Having taken a quick look at the OECD report which requires some exercising of both cerebral focus and an investment in actually wanting to find positives for Scottish education it is little wonder that the msm and so opposition politicians prefer to lean on PISA for their soundbites.
        I am content that as a primary school practitioner as both teacher and Head Teacher I operated on that age old adage, ‘we taught children, our Secondary School colleagues’ taught subjects’.
        CfE was easily embraced in Primary but it’s gestation in Secondary was somewhat laboured.
        That it is now well embedded is to the credit of all in education who see that, while they continue to teach content, they are first and foremost enablers of learning.
        The msm and political sound-bite merchants will never embrace this.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. What is forgotten or never mentioned is that the PISA scores beloved of journalists wanting a SNP Bad headline and politicians with an agenda, are arrived at via a computer algorithm and we all know how these can be ‘tweaked’.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Isn’t Scotland supposed to have the best educated population in Europe? more qualifications as a % of popoulation. Shouldn’t Scotland be the standard everybody else is trying to emulate? Why are they interviewing some guy standing in the same room as an abacus?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A clever use of a picture by John, I particularly like his comment below: ….“ his state-of-the -art, quantitative research technology”

      Liked by 2 people

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