FRESH calls have been made to provide financial incentives to attract the most talented teachers in Scotland to schools serving deprived communities.

The demand came after it emerged Scotland has come bottom of a new international league table that records the gap between the reading skills of the cleverest pupils from both affluent and deprived areas.

Research by the Institute of Education, based at the University of London, revealed the difference in achievement between the two groups in Scotland was the largest out of 23 countries studied.

It comes after Government body Education Scotland revealed inspections are failed by almost one in three secondary schools in deprived neighbourhoods.

Last week, Education Secretary Michael Russell said he was "sympathetic" to the idea of encouraging staff and headteachers with a proven track record to kick-start schools failing to achieve acceptable levels.

Labour MSP Neil Findlay, the deputy convener of the Scottish Parliament's education committee, has also suggested the attainment gap could be closed by getting the best leaders and teachers into the areas where they were needed the most.

The proposal was also considered in the recent McCormac review of teachers' pay and conditions.

Brian Boyd, emeritus professor of education at Strathclyde University, said providing a financial incentive would be a positive step forward.

"The latest figures on reading are appalling, and it something we should all be concerned about," he said.

"We need to put a lot more funding into early-years education to ensure this gap is eradicated, because we know intervention does work if it is done early enough.

"In my experience, schools that serve the most disadvantaged areas are often the very best and the staff work incredibly hard to do everything they possible can to turn around young people's lives.

"However, in schools where that is not the case we need to think about giving financial incentives to actively recruit the most gifted and effective teachers and leaders."

Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said the research confirmed previously known links between attainment and prosperity.

"We know our education system at the moment increases that gap as children get older – our energy surely has to go into narrowing the gap at an early stage and sustaining that gain through the life of the young person," she said.

"All of this points to the need to focus on universal family supports that start in the very early years and build confidence and understanding among the adults who care for a child."

According to the research, the reading skills of the highest-performing Scottish 15-year-olds from disadvantaged families are, on average, nearly three years behind those of the most able pupils from privileged backgrounds.

The gap of 2.75 years compares to 2.5 years in England, but is twice as wide as in some other developed countries such as Iceland, Finland and Germany.

Dr John Jerrim, who conducted the study, said: "Policymakers must turn their attention to reducing inequalities in educational achievement among the brightest children in society, to ensure those from disadvantaged families are not left behind."

The report was written after researchers analysed the reading scores of 2631 Scottish 15-year-olds who took part in the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment study.