NICOLA Sturgeon has said she is “not denying” the challenge to improve education in Scotland following the publication of an international survey on performance standards.

Statistics outlined in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) report on Tuesday showed a rise in reading performance but no improvement in science and maths. The PISA figures are produced every three years and record the performance of 600,000 15-year-olds from around the world.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon

In the latest results, Scotland achieved a mean score of 504 for reading, up from 493 in 2015; 489 for maths, similar to the 491 score in 2015; and 490 for science, compared to the 497 score in 2015.

Speaking on a campaign visit to the Happy Days Nursery in Dalkeith, Midlothian, the First Minister said there is a “wealth of evidence” that education standards are improving.

She said: “What we saw yesterday was a very sharp and very significant improvement in reading performance and that comes from a determination after the last PISA results to make a focus of our attainment challenge on literacy initiatives like the First Minister’s Reading Challenge.

“Performance in maths and science is stable, that was the word that the OECD used, and the initiatives that we have under way now are all about making sure that we push up performance there as well.”

Asked about the performance in science and maths, Sturgeon said: “I’m not denying the challenge here but it is a point of fact that performance is stable compared to the last PISA survey.”

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The First Minister said: “Performance is stable and what we are seeking to do now is see it improve in the same way that reading performance has improved over the last couple of years.

“There is a wealth of other evidence, if you look at the performance in Higher exam passes in Scotland, both in terms of the numbers of young people leaving with Highers, the closing of the attainment gap in Higher results ... then we see a wealth of evidence now that standards are improving and the attainment gap is closing.

“It’s not job done and I am not standing here saying it is, but there’s a real focus on the part of the Scottish Government to make sure that that improvement continues.”

Sturgeon added: “Of course, we see record numbers of young people, from all backgrounds, now going into positive destinations, we see more young people from our most disadvantaged communities now going into university – that was, when I became First Minister, a particular challenge that we’ve really addressed.

“So I’ll be candid, there is work to be done here but in many of these respects the direction of travel is the right one and our responsibility is to keep that focus strong.”