Education Secretary John Swinney has said Scotland’s worsening performance in international education rankings is “unacceptable”.
He revealed he had spoken to his council of international education advisers after the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 2015
Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) showed a decline in performance for 15-year-olds in reading, maths and science.
He said they advised ministers should remain focused on taking forward plans for educational reform.
In a statement to Holyrood on the Pisa results, he said: “While they show that Scotland’s scores are similar to the OECD average in all three areas tested, they also show that compared to 2012 our performance in reading has fallen.
“In science and maths we are now below the levels at which we performed in 2006 and more countries have outperformed Scotland in all three areas than at any time since Pisa began.
“The results show that closing the poverty-related attainment gap is a complex challenge which is not unique to Scotland.
“The welcome improvements in performance in young people from deprived backgrounds, which we saw in the previous results between 2009 and 2012, have been maintained.
“However, there is still a gap between pupils from the least and the most disadvantaged background, around three years worth of schooling, according to the OECD.”
He continued: “We now must be clear: reform is required. This data reinforces the case for radical change that this government is determined to pursue.
“All of those comments I put on the record to sum up the government’s response to what are statistics and performance that is unacceptable, and which we have to improve, and I accept the responsibility to make sure that happens.”
Mr Swinney said the Scottish Government has taken action to boost reading, maths and science including the Read, Write, Count campaign, setting up a Making Maths Count group and plans to launch the first-ever national improvement plan for education next week.
Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said the results were a “damning indictment” and called into question the delivery of the Scottish Government’s flagship Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) programme.
Former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray urged Mr Swinney to apologise and added: “These results are the legacy of 10 years of SNP government – 10 years of cuts to education budgets, cuts to council funding and cuts to teacher numbers.”
Mr Swinney said OECD believed CfE is the “right curriculum for Scotland” and that cuts to Scottish local authority budgets were in line with UK cuts to Scottish Government funding.
He added: “I make no apology whatsoever for protecting teacher numbers while Labour councils wanted to reduce them.”