Forget PISA’s tiny unreliable samples: Scotland has the best school attainment outcomes in the UK because it has the most teachers per pupil

You might remember my earlier criticisms of the PISA school attainment test results which Reporting Scotland and the other Unionist media used to attack the Scottish Government – they’re utterly unreliable estimates and meaningless across different cultures.

However, you can reasonably compare Scotland with quite similar educational systems in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. These comparisons become more useful if you can, unlike PISA, use large representative samples or even better complete national results. See this for England in January 2016:

‘Almost half of English Primary School students failing to make the grade, says report.’

The above Guardian headline, slightly exaggerated, was based on a study by the CentreForum think-tank and the Education Data Lab research body. On page five we see that only 58.5% hit the target set for reading, writing and mathematics. I wondered how it managed to be exactly the same percentage across all three subjects but that’s what it says. Here are the Scottish equivalent percentages reaching the targets:

Reading 72%

Writing 81%

Mathematics 68%

Now I know we are not comparing exactly like-for-like here but the two educational systems’ key concepts and standards in core subjects are unlikely to differ much given the cultural similarities, extensive history of collaboration and research over decades.

Why are the Scottish results better? I can’t say for certain of course because educational outcomes are affected by so many factors that it’s almost impossible to pin down the causes of any change. However, there is one factor which governments can control, which virtually every expert recognises is likely to play a large part and that is the pupil-teacher ratio. The more teachers you have per child the more attention each child should get and rather obviously the better they should do. A very large, in-depth English study in 2000-2003 (CSPAR) was reported in a UK government report and this concluded on p.55:

‘The CSPAR study found statistically significant gains for smaller classes for all ability groups in both literacy and mathematics.’

Here are the pupil-teacher ratios for the four UK areas:

Wales: 18.6/1

Northern Ireland: 17.6/1

England: 17.4/1

Scotland: 13.7/1

Again, I know these ratios are not evidence of actual class sizes (head teachers regularly adjust these to suit ongoing circumstances) but it’s reasonable to assume that Scottish schools will be using these additional staff members either to reduce typical class sizes directly or to increase team-teaching, flexibly, within classes, with the same effect of increasing attention-levels for each pupil.

Once more, you’d never know any of this if all you watch is Reporting Scotland and read the Scottish newspapers.



Wales: or

Scotland: or

Northern Ireland: or


10 thoughts on “Forget PISA’s tiny unreliable samples: Scotland has the best school attainment outcomes in the UK because it has the most teachers per pupil

  1. Clydebuilt December 16, 2016 / 4:11 pm

    Great piece of work John. Short and right on target……. The Rev. Stu’s got a rival.


  2. broadbield December 16, 2016 / 4:48 pm

    Spot on Clydebuilt! We know stats don’t prove a case, but at least they provide a reliable basis for discussion and anyone who want to argue against them has to provide other stats derived from equally valid research – which is too much trouble for most politicians and hacks.

    This blog should be required reading for someone in the SG/SNP to counter the misinformation spread by the MSM.


    • Clydebuilt December 16, 2016 / 7:43 pm

      Thanks Broadbield. …..Too much trouble…… Impossible in this case….

      Aye I was thinking the SG. Should use John’s work to rebuff the media’s assaults.. Often our MSP’s are not well prepared. Whilst there are powerful facts in their favour to be found on this blog Wings etc…. Dunno what their staff are are doing to earn their crust


      • johnrobertson834 December 16, 2016 / 8:08 pm

        They wont fight back. Trying to appear professional and competetent


  3. Clydebuilt December 17, 2016 / 11:22 am

    Not fighting back and appearing professional etc must be a choice. Some of them are capable of fighting back……. Derek MacKay did a braw job af fighting back, when up against Garry Robertson and his fellow Paisley Bud. Andrew Neil. D.M. Was very effective. At the end Neil knew he had lost. He couldn’t hide it.

    O / T. Just heard that the food critic A. A. Gill who died of cancer, was told that he could only get The drug that would prolong his life by paying for it himself, at £60,000 per year…….. The drug in question is available in Scotland. (Shareen Nanjianni’s Sat. Morning show)


  4. Clydebuilt December 22, 2016 / 6:32 pm

    Merry Xmas to all …… Geeze John where’s the Christmas quiz, and Look back on the year…….
    Hope your keeping well.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s