Election 2017

Reality Check: Are standards slipping in Scotland's schools?

Nicola Sturgeon on The Andrew Neil Interviews

The claim: "Education is something I have said is my top priority and it's something I have recognised we've got more work to do on - but it's not true to say we haven't seen improvements." (Nicola Sturgeon on The Andrew Neil Interviews)

BBC Reality Check verdict: Pupils' performance has worsened or stagnated in literacy and numeracy - according to government statistics. However fewer students are leaving school with no qualifications and more are going into work or further education.

Education is devolved in Scotland, meaning the Scottish government has the power to set policy. Here's what different performance measures show:


Literacy rates for Scottish school pupils have fallen over the past four years according to official statistics.

According to figures released last month by the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN), only 49% of 13 to 14 year olds were performing "very well" or "well" in writing in 2016. That was down from 55% in 2014 and 64% in 2012 - the other years covered by the report.

The annual survey, which looks at children's performance in literacy and numeracy assessments, separately in alternate years, based its findings from around 10,000 pupils in 2,250 Scottish schools,

It also found P4 and P7 pupils (equivalent to Years 3 and 6 in England and Wales) also recorded a fall in writing performance.

Pupils from the least deprived areas outperformed those from the most deprived areas in writing in all three survey years, but the size of the gap in performance remained broadly the same.


The SSLN's latest findings on numeracy were published in a separate report last year. That survey - which covered the period 2011-15 - found the proportion of pupils performing well in numeracy was broadly stable, although it fell slightly amongst eight to nine year olds.

When it comes to the gap between the richest and poorest pupils, the reports said it increased for P4 pupils and remained the same for P7 and S2 (equivalent to Year 8 in England and Wales) pupils.

Pisa survey

Internationally, Scotland has recorded its worst ever performance in the international Pisa survey of pupils, with standards in maths, reading and science all falling.

It was the first time since the Pisa rankings started in 2000 that all three subjects were classed as "average" in Scotland, with none "above average".

School leavers

Despite the drop in standards, when it comes to school leavers the proportion receiving one or more qualifications is at record level. In all 60% of pupils left school with at least one qualification in 2015. A decade ago it was just over 40%.

When it comes to what school leavers do next, more and more are going to "positive destinations" each year - such as further education, training, voluntary work or employment.

In 2015-16 93.3% of school leavers moved to "positive destinations" - up from 93.0% the year before and up from 90.1% four years ago.

The SNP says it is working to address the gaps in literacy and numeracy and the official statistics do not reflect recent changes. In February, the Scottish Government announced a new school fund worth £120m, which will allow 2,513 primary, secondary and special schools to benefit.

The money is in addition to the funding schools receive from their local council.

Read more from Reality Check

Follow us on Twitter