Sharp rise in reading ability at school

Performances improve and attainment gap closing.

Reading levels among Scotland’s children have risen sharply in the last three years and the attainment gap is closing, according to an international survey.

Data from the Programme for International Student Assessment 2018 (PISA) shows that reading levels are now above the average, with just five Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, out of 36, higher than Scotland.

PISA data also shows that social background is now less of factor in performance, corroborating wider evidence that the attainment gap is closing.

Performance in maths and science was similar to Scotland’s performance in 2015 at the OECD average.

Other findings show that compared to the OECD average:

  • a higher proportion of Scotland’s pupils felt inspired by their teachers’ enthusiasm
  • pupils were more likely to feel that their teachers enjoyed teaching and liked teaching their class
  • teachers are more likely to give feedback to students to improve their performance, while students were more likely to say this happened in every or many lessons

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said:

“These are very encouraging results and the latest sign that our education reforms are working. Scottish schools are improving and this international study confirms that.

“Reading underpins all learning, and the sharp rise in performance is good news.

“The improvement has been driven by great teachers and well-supported pupils, but also our unrelenting focus on improving literacy through the Scottish Attainment Challenge and Pupil Equity Fund. Those efforts are now paying dividends, with only five countries scoring higher than Scotland at reading.

“The figures on social background also confirm that we are closing the gap between pupils from the richest and poorest backgrounds.

“Maths and science scores are stable at the OECD average, so we need to see the kind of improvement that we now see in literacy in these areas too. That is the challenge.

“An inspection of maths and numeracy published by Education Scotland shows what is working and how we can improve. It will help as we move on the next phase of driving up standards in Scotland’s schools.

“And, in science, good progress has been made with delivery of our five-year STEM strategy, with the roll-out of career-long professional learning grants and new online resources for teachers. The impact of it will only just be beginning to be felt on the ground and we will continue to push for the improvements that we know can be made.

“There is plenty of work still to do to improve Scottish education but today’s report should give people a strong sense that we are on the right track, making substantial progress and seeing results where it counts – in the classroom.”


PISA is designed to assess pupils’ skills in reading, mathematics and science. The data from this assessment was conducted in Scotland in 2018 across 107 schools and 2,969 pupils.

Each cycle of PISA has a different focus. The main focus in PISA 2018 was reading, but it also included questions on maths and science.

PISA allows comparisons to be drawn with a large number of other countries around the world, and, more importantly, enables each country to monitor education over time in a global context.

The average is taken from the assessments of the members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In total, PISA 2018 involved 79 countries and economies.

PISA data is benchmarked by countries and nations who take part in the PISA survey, including members of the Organisation for Economic Co-ordination and Development (OECD).

Scotland’s performance in maths and science was similar to that of 2015 and remains similar to the OECD average.

View the PISA data.

Read the Scottish Government report.


Media enquiries

Back to top