MORE than one-quarter of Scottish pupils fail to achieve expected levels of literacy and numeracy by the time they leave primary school, damning new figures show.

In a further blow to Education Secretary John Swinney, the study shows that in reading, the proportion of pupils achieving the relevant level decreased throughout primary from 81 per cent in P1 to 72 per cent by P7.

Performance in writing declined from 78 per cent in P1 to 65 per cent in P7 while attainment in numeracy dropped from 84 per cent to 68 per cent.

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The figures led to the Scottish Government’s record on school education to come under renewed fire.

It came after ministers published statistics highlighting the proportion of children considered by their teachers to be performing at the required levels under the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

They showed a stark gulf between pupils in rich and poor areas, with only 54 per cent of children from the poorest areas in the final year of primary school meeting the standard of writing expected compared to 78 per cent of those in the wealthiest areas.

However, the statistics showed an improvement in secondary school, with the proportion of S3 pupils achieving appropriate levels in all areas recorded as above 80 per cent.

The publication comes a week after it emerged Scotland’s schools had recorded their worst-ever performance in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment figures, run by the OECD.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already said she wants to be judged on her achievement in closing the attainment gap between rich and poor.

The Scottish Conservatives said differences between figures published for individual councils showed the “massive issues” facing the implementation of CfE.

Liz Smith, the party’s education spokeswoman, said: “It’s clear from these figures that there are massive issues in delivering CfE in some areas of the country and that the confusion surrounding its implementation is starting to have a hugely negative effect.

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“There are a number of legitimate concerns about the curriculum and these statistics are further evidence that we need to have proper independent scrutiny of how it is being implemented.”

Iain Gray, education spokesman for the Scottish Labour Party, said the figures illustrated the SNP’s “10 years of failure” on education.

He said: “The SNP’s school shame has deepened with these statistics. Pupils not reaching expected standards in reading, writing and numeracy is a failure in social and economic policy by the SNP government.”

The CfE level data, which has been published for every primary school in Scotland, has been described as “experimental” by Scottish Government statisticians because it is based on the judgments of teachers and is not externally verified.

But Mr Swinney said the introduction of standardised tests would give teachers a national benchmark against which to compare their judgments in future. He also invited parents to use the latest data as the basis of discussions with their schools. He said: “Currently there are inconsistencies in the way young people’s progress is being assessed and reported in schools across the country and the standardised assessments will provide teachers with nationally consistent data to help inform their professional judgment.

“Even taking this into account, the data published today show that significant improvements are required in some local authorities. I would encourage parents to consider the school level information that is now available and discuss it with their child’s school.”

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Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union, said the figures showed the majority of pupils were reaching the expected levels.

He said: “The publication of CfE level data indicates pupils in our schools are performing well overall and that most are at, or ahead, of the expected level for their stage.”