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National Indicator: Educational Attainment

This national indicator is currently being reported on the new national performance website and can be found here:


down Improve levels of educational attainment

Indicator Measure
The gap in performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) between Scotland and the OECD average

Current Status
Between 2000 and 2006 the gap between Scotland and the OECD fell, Scotland having been about 27 points ahead of the OECD average in 2000. There was no significant change between 2006 and 2012. Between 2012 and 2015 the gap fell further to 2 points.

2006 to 2015

Source: The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
A spreadsheet containing further data can be downloaded at the bottom of the page.

Last Update: 6 December 2016
Next Update: December 2019? 

Improve levels of educational attainment

Why is this National Indicator important?
What will influence this National Indicator?
What is the Government's role?
How is Scotland performing?
Criteria for recent change
Further information
Who are our partners?
Related Strategic Objectives

Why is this National Indicator important?

The Scottish school system is performing well. The information we have from school inspections, qualifications and awards, the destinations of our school leavers, international assessment surveys to name but a few, confirm that we have a strong system which delivers to a good internationally recognised standard. Our ambition, and the requirement for our future economic success which is for the benefit and contribution of all, is for continuous improvement.

In addition to the evidence we gather from across Scotland about the performance of our school system it is important that this is placed within the context of our international standing. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international assessment of student attainment in reading, maths and science at age fifteen. PISA is run by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and takes place every three years. Scotland has participated in PISA on each occasion since its inception in 2000.

What is particularly valuable is that PISA focuses on testing the knowledge and skills required for participation in society and assessing the extent to which pupils can apply skills gained in school in everyday adult life, thus moving beyond the pupil's ability to master the school curriculum.

What will influence this National Indicator?

Curriculum for Excellence is the programme through which transformational change will occur in our education system. We will recognise impact through the extent to which young people leave school with the skills, capacities and ambition to fulfil their potential.

Success as measured by this indicator will require:

  • all pupils to experience and benefit from teaching which focuses on improved learning - as we need Scotland's relative position to improve against other successful countries
  • socio-economic influence on attainment and outcomes to be reduced - as this is Scotland's particular challenge relative to other countries
  • outcomes of pupils from challenging backgrounds to improve - this is linked to socio-economic issues but in addition our most vulnerable children and young people require better services which are tailored to their individual needs

What is the Government's role?

The Scottish Government has a coherent strategic approach which is based on Getting it Right for Every Child. Through this services will be tailored to the needs of children and it will strengthen and support the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence. The expansion to pre-school provision and the investment in early years will work to support parents (as a child's first teacher) and will enable children to grow, develop and prepare for learning in school.

The Scottish Government is committed to improving the life chances of all Scotland's children and young people; raising their ambition and attainment. The quality of teachers and their leadership will be a crucial factor in determining whether this aspiration is fully realised. The McCormac Review and the Donaldson review provide part of this wider agenda.

How is Scotland performing?

There has been a reduction in performance between the last two measurements (2012 and 2015). In 2015 Scotland was, on average, 2 points above the OECD average, compared to 9 points in 2012. This is based on the average difference in points score across the three PISA subjects (maths, reading and science). Scotland’s score was statistically similar to the OECD average in maths, reading and science, have been statistically significantly higher than the OECD in reading and science in 2012.

A spreadsheet containing further data can be downloaded at the bottom of the page

Criteria for recent change

The evaluation is based on: any difference within +/- 5 points of last year's figure suggests that the position is more likely to be maintaining than showing any change. While Scotland remains above the OECD average, an average increase of 5 points or more in the gap suggests the position is improving; whereas a decrease of 5 points or more suggests the position is worsening.

Further Information

For information on general methodological approach, please click here.

Scotland Performs Technical Note

Who are our partners?

Local Authorities

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development


Related Strategic Objectives


Wealthier and Fairer

View National Indicator Data

Downloadable document:

Title:Improve levels of educational attainment
Description:Improve levels of educational attainment
File:Educational Attainment Data [XLS, 521.2 kb: 05 Dec 2016]
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