SCOTLAND's new Education Secretary has challenged teachers to do more to improve the performance of pupils in basic skills such as literacy and numeracy.

Angela Constance said she was "astonished" that some subject teachers in secondary did not think reading and writing was "vital".

Ms Constance spoke out after recent official figures showed standards of literacy in Scottish primary and secondary schools are falling.

The Scottish Survey of Literacy found performance in reading dropped in primary schools between 2012 and 2014, as well as in the second year of secondary school. Last year, the same survey found Scottish primary schools had experienced a dramatic decline in standards of numeracy.

Ms Constance said: "The results on numeracy and.... literacy show that we need to step up the pace of change. Frankly, it's not good enough that some children appear to be doing less well in basic skills the older they get.

"The survey also found that, if we take away English teachers, fewer than 20 per cent of secondary teachers think that reading and writing is vital to their curriculum area.

"I'm astonished at this, frankly. And if it is the case, then we must change those attitudes and do more to support our schools and teachers, to raise the quality of teaching in literacy across other curriculum areas."

Ms Constance called on all teachers to "step up to their professional challenges" and realise the opportunities that the education system holds for them as professionals as well as Scotland's children.

She added: "The quality of our teaching workforce and the excellence of our educational leadership provide the bedrock of our education system and all, not some, teachers must play their part. They need to understand poverty and children's lives better.

"Seeing the children they teach not just as pupils or learners, but as individuals with foibles, weaknesses and challenges, but importantly too, strengths, opportunities and enthusiasm."

Ms Constance said she was particularly concerned about the underachievement of boys in basic skills.

"The evidence suggests current approaches to teaching children to read, write, listen and talk are less suited to boys than girls. So we must find and embed new ones," she said.

"Likewise, there is much still to do in encouraging girls and young women into careers in science, technology, engineering and maths ensuring that no young person's aspirations are limited by gender stereotyping."