PISA evidence suggests Scottish approach to curriculum is less effective than England’s

Primary Author or Creator:
Lindsay Paterson
Bylines Scotland
Alternative Published Date
Type of Resource:
Fast Facts

Scottish results in the recent PISA have come as a shock

More details

English policy on the school curriculum has taken quite a different direction. It has focused much more strongly on knowledge, following research which shows that knowledge is empowering. This is especially true of students who cannot get access to knowledge from home, because their parents have not themselves had access to it, or because they cannot afford the kind of equipment and experiences—books, computers, educational activities—that underpin the acquisition of it. This English approach has been criticised for being harsh, and for being too abstract—the very characteristics that Scotland’s curriculum rejects. After all, the evidence on student motivation can be read the other way round: England is no better than Scotland at improving it.

The PISA evidence thus suggests—though it does not prove—that the Scottish approach to the curriculum is less effective than the English. The next challenge for policy-makers in both countries is to try to combine the noble aims of each—an attention to skills and well-being, but also recognising that skills, to be effective, have to be grounded in knowledge, and that educational well-being can come from the satisfaction of grasping a difficult body of knowledge. Yet in the polarised world of educational politics, it is difficult to hold out much hope that a reconciliation of this kind might be achieved.