FEWER than half of Scotland’s 13 and 14-year-olds are performing well in writing with standards in decline, according to damning new research.

The Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) found 49 per cent of S2 pupils performed “very well” or “well” in writing last year compared to 55 per cent in 2014 and 64 per cent in 2012.

Pupils from the fourth and seventh year of primary also saw a drop in writing performance, but reading across all three age groups was broadly stable.

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John Swinney, the Education Secretary, said the figures were “simply not good enough”.

He blamed poor guidance to teachers about what standards were expected in the first three years of secondary during the roll-out of the Curriculum for Excellence reforms.

And he said the introduction of standardised national testing would allow schools to have a great focus on the individual needs of pupils in future.

During a visit to Craigroyston Primary School in Edinburgh he said there were four key areas where Scottish education needed improvement.

He said: “We need to better understand the progress of individual pupils, be clear about the standards expected in our classrooms while stripping out bureaucracy to free teachers to teach, and ensure literacy skills are fully embedded across the curriculum.

“This Government is already taking action to provide teachers and schools with the tools - through the literacy benchmarks and standardised assessments - and the resources, through the Scottish Attainment Challenge and Pupil Equity Funding, to improve literacy.

“These reforms are not an overnight solution, it will take time before we see their full effect and we must stay the course. Further reform is now imperative.”

However, Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith described the results as “shameful” after a decade of SNP control.

She said: “Given this evidence, it is abundantly clear that the Scottish Government is not doing enough to address the problems in basic literacy.

“It also shows that a very persistent gap between pupils from the most deprived areas and the least deprived areas continues, and that needs to be tackled.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the figures confirmed “ten years of SNP mismanagement and an obsession with independence”.

Ross Greer, education spokesman for the Scottish Greens, called for greater investment in education.”

However, Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union, urged caution.

He said: “It is important we keep these figures in context and consider the environment in which schools, pupils and teachers were working in at the time this survey was carried out.

“These particular figures relate to 2016, a session when teachers and pupils were being placed under great strain linked to new qualifications and the resultant excessive workload demands.”

Among P4 pupils, 77 per cent performed well in reading, down from 78 per cent in 2014. In writing, performance dipped from 64 per cent to 62 per cent.

In P7, the figure for reading stood unchanged at 88 per cent, while in writing it dropped from 68 per cent to 65 per cent, and in listening and talking performance rose from 66 per cent to 67 per cent.

In S2, reading performance rose from 80 per cent to 82 per cent and listening and talking dipped from 52 per cent to 49 per cent.

The attainment gap - the difference in performance by Scotland’s most and least deprived pupils - remained broadly similar to 2014.