PUPILS sitting Scotland’s most important mathematics exams are failing to get to grips with basic numeracy skills, examiners have warned.

Official reports into this summer’s National 5 and Higher maths papers highlighted “disappointing” performance for “many pupils” when they had to rely on mental calculations rather than using a calculator.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said the issue was particularly obvious in questions dealing with concepts such as algebra, decimal places, fractions and problem-solving.

The findings come at a time of rising concern over standards of literacy and numeracy.

A major international report in 2016 found standards of reading and science were declining while performance in maths was stagnating.

A year earlier a Scottish survey identified a decline in maths performance in the upper years of primary school.

The latest SQA concerns sparked a backlash from opposition politicians who blamed the Scottish Government for the decline.

Iain Gray, education spokesman for the Scottish Labour Party, said: “There have been concerns for a long time time now about numeracy and indeed literacy standards in our schools.

“The SNP’s response was to abolish the national numeracy survey which led to these concerns, but now the National and Higher exams show us those concerns were real.

“The problems being highlighted are fundamental issues and we need to look again at class sizes, teacher shortages and funding across schools.”

Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservative Party, said the reports were a “matter of concern”.

She said: “We have known for some time that Scotland is lagging behind other nations when it comes to these basic skills, but there is little sign of any improvement.”

Ms Smith called on the Scottish Government to review the impact of Curriculum for Excellence.

Tavish Scott, education spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said ending the “teacher recruitment crisis” was a priority.

He added: “It is concerning that markers are observing basic problems at this level.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said ministers were aware of the importance of improving maths skills.

She said: “We recognise the challenge we face to improve numeracy standards of our young people.

“That is why numeracy, along with literacy, health and wellbeing, are the educational priorities across Scotland.

“Basic numeracy is an essential aspect of the curriculum and our education system is building confidence, understanding and skills from the early years onwards.”

Overall, the SQA said the majority of candidates were well prepared and performed well. Pass rates for both National 5 and Higher were broadly similar to previous years.

But the course report for Higher maths stated: “Candidates made a significant number of numerical inaccuracies in their working. This costs valuable marks.

“Teachers ... should consider how best to maintain and practice non-calculator mathematical skills when preparing candidates.”

There were also concerns about how pupils dealt with fractions in the National 5 Applications of Mathematics paper - designed specifically to develop the use of practical maths.