INTERNATIONAL education tests have reported record low results in science and maths among Scottish school pupils.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey showed reading levels among Scotland’s children have risen since 2015, but maths and science have both seen slight drops.

Pupils are performing substantially worse in reading than they did in 2000.

Meanwhile, efforts to close the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils appear to have stalled.

England performed better than Scotland in science and maths. Its reading score was similar to Scotland, although slightly higher.

Education Secretary John Swinney said the results were “very encouraging” and stressed PISA only shows part of the picture.

But critics called them a “humiliation for the SNP”.

Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “This is damning evidence revealing the full extent of the SNP’s shameful 12 years running down Scotland’s schools.

“Nicola Sturgeon asked to be judged on education. This summer saw the fourth consecutive year of decline in Higher pass rates and now the SNP is presiding over the worst ever PISA results in both maths and science.

“In reading, where it should be acknowledged that there is encouraging improvement since 2015, the score is still lower than the 2012 result and considerably lower than the score in 2000.

“Nicola Sturgeon’s obsession with a second divisive referendum has come at a high cost to our schools.

"Performance in maths and science is absolutely vital for the future of Scotland's economy and for industries such as engineering and IT.

“These results are a humiliation for the SNP and they also mean that the potential of Scotland’s economy has been tarnished.

“After the last set of poor PISA results, the SNP said that the curriculum had to change. Yet these results are a new low and we know there have been many failings within the delivery of the Curriculum for Excellence.

“It is not just time to change the curriculum but also to change the government in Scotland.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the results were “appalling”.

He said: “Scotland used to have one of the best education systems in the world, but under the SNP its now just average.

"Scottish teachers have been messed about for too long. John Swinney has refused to listen to them.

“Support in their classrooms has been cut to the bone and they simply don't believe in the policies being imposed on them, not least the national testing of four and five-year-olds.

"Nicola Sturgeon once claimed education was her top priority, but nobody is now in any doubt that the SNP will always put independence first no matter the cost.

“Their chief civil servant has warned another independence campaign will lead to the 'de-prioritisation' of domestic policy, but the SNP simply don't care about the damage and distraction it will cause.”

Scotland’s scores in the PISA assessment – which measures the performance of 15-year-olds in 79 countries – were above the OECD average in reading and similar to the OECD average in maths and science.

Its reading score rose from 493 to 504, while performance in maths dropped slightly from 491 to 489. In science, performance fell from 497 to 490.

The strength in relationship between performance and social background was similar to 2015, despite the Scottish Government ploughing cash into efforts to narrow this gap. However it was lower than it was in 2009.

Meanwhile, a questionnaire completed at the same time as the tests showed Scotland performed worst in the UK when it came to teacher concerns over “hindrances to learning”.

Teachers north of the Border reported greater concerns over students not paying attention, truancy, showing a lack of respect to teachers, skipping classes, pupils intimidating and bullying others and teacher absenteeism.

However, Scotland performed better in other areas, with lower scores than elsewhere in the UK when it came to teacher concerns over poor infrastructure and a lack of educational material.

A third of Scottish secondary schools – 107 – took part in PISA 2018, with 2,969 students successfully sitting an assessment.

The main comparisons are between Scotland’s results and those of the 36 OECD partners, and with other UK countries.

The ranking system has been criticised by some in the education sector, and often causes political rows.

Mr Swinney said: “These are very encouraging results and the latest sign that our education reforms are working. Scottish schools are improving and this international study confirms that.

“Reading underpins all learning, and the sharp rise in performance is good news.

“The improvement has been driven by great teachers and well-supported pupils, but also our unrelenting focus on improving literacy through the Scottish Attainment Challenge and Pupil Equity Fund. Those efforts are now paying dividends, with only five countries scoring higher than Scotland at reading.

“The figures on social background also confirm that we are closing the gap between pupils from the richest and poorest backgrounds.

“Maths and science scores are stable at the OECD average, so we need to see the kind of improvement that we now see in literacy in these areas too. That is the challenge.

“An inspection of maths and numeracy published by Education Scotland shows what is working and how we can improve. It will help as we move on the next phase of driving up standards in Scotland’s schools.

“And, in science, good progress has been made with delivery of our five-year STEM strategy, with the roll-out of career-long professional learning grants and new online resources for teachers. The impact of it will only just be beginning to be felt on the ground and we will continue to push for the improvements that we know can be made.

“There is plenty of work still to do to improve Scottish education but today’s report should give people a strong sense that we are on the right track, making substantial progress and seeing results where it counts – in the classroom.”