Is educational attainment in Scotland at record levels?

10 March 2017
What was claimed

93.3% of school leavers in Scotland are going into education, training or employment.

Our verdict

Correct according to initial findings for 2015/16, although these may change slightly when the surveys are followed up later this year.

What was claimed

Educational attainment in Scotland is at record levels.

Our verdict

It depends on which measure you look at. 15 year olds’ performance in international exams is falling, but at the same time more pupils are leaving school with Higher qualifications..

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh MP: “We have record levels of attainment in Scotland.”

Kezia Dugdale MSP: “That’s not true.”

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh MP: “93.3% of young people are going to into education, training or employment when they leave school.”

Kezia Dugdale MSP: “That's destinations not attainment.”

BBC Question Time, 9 March 2017

Both politicians seem to be talking past each other. They’re correctly referencing different sets of figures, but it’s less clear what Ms Ahmed-Sheikh means by record levels of attainment, since she goes on to talk about where pupils go after they leave school.

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Scotland’s performance in international science and reading tests is falling

Labour confirmed Ms Dugdale was talking about Scotland’s recent performance in the PISA international survey of 15 year-olds’ educational performance.

The survey showed Scotland’s performance in science and reading falling between 2012 and 2015.   While performance in maths hadn’t changed much in that time, it was still lower than scores back in the mid-2000s.

More pupils going into education, employment or training

Ms Ahmed-Sheikh appeared to be backing up her claim about attainment with statistics about the destination of school leavers, which is different. It’s possible that she was making a separate point on attainment without going into detail, so we’ve asked her office to confirm what her initial claim referred to.

On destinations, she’s correct that, using the available figures, a record proportion of young people are going into education, employment or training.

In 2015/16, 93.3% of school leavers in Scotland went into higher or further education, paid or unpaid work, training and ‘activity agreements’. That’s been rising each year, from 90.1% in 2011/12.

Those figures tell us what’s happening to former pupils three months after leaving. There’s usually a follow-up survey after nine months, which tends to show a small drop in pupils going into education, work or training.

More pupils are leaving school with higher level qualifications

One other measure of attainment paints a more positive picture, in line with Ms Ahmed-Sheikh’s initial claim.

The proportion of school leavers in Scotland attaining one or more Higher qualification has been rising since 2006, from just over 40% to around 60%. At the other end of the spectrum there’s a rising proportion of pupils leaving without any passes at level 3 or better.

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