The curriculum followed by Scotland’s schools needs to focus more on literacy and numeracy, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, the Scottish first minister admitted “we need to do better” after figures showed less than half of 13 and 14-year-olds were performing well in writing.
Ms Sturgeon also said that Scotland may need a “phased” approach to European Union (EU) membership if independent.
She also ruled out the country adopting the Euro.
During her interview, Ms Sturgeon said that Scottish ministers had “taken advice” on refocusing the country’s education policy, the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).
CfE was implemented in Scottish schools in 2010.
The latest Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy figures followed another set of poor results for Scottish pupils, when the international Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) found scores for maths, reading and science had all declined.
Ms Sturgeon insisted she was not denying the results and said measures were being taken to address the issues.
She told the programme: “I’ve been very open that this is not good enough.
She said that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) had been communicating with her government to address concerns.
Ms Sturgeon said: “They’ve made certain recommendations to us about how we improve the teaching of literacy and numeracy.
“Right now we’ve got a new national improvement framework, we have an attainment challenge, we have an attainment fund putting significant extra resources into education.”
She added: “But we have had some advice that we need to have more of a focus in our curriculum on literacy and numeracy and that’s exactly what we’re doing right now, so we’ve introduced new benchmarks for the teaching of literacy and numeracy.”
‘Supposed top priority’
Ms Sturgeon also said that her government was increasing the budget of head teachers in Scotland by £120m to invest in measures it believes would improve levels of literacy and numeracy.
Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith criticised the Scottish government’s record on education and said it was an admission of failure.
She said “After ten years of SNP control over Scottish education, it is simply not good enough for Nicola Sturgeon to say that improvements will be made by 2021.
“Scottish children cannot afford to wait until the next parliament for things to get better.
“It is time for the SNP to put its obsession with independence to one side and get on with tackling its supposed top priority of improving education.”
The Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, called it a “bruising interview” for Ms Sturgeon and said she had been faced with the reality of her “own appalling record on education”.
On Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon told Andrew Marr that “by necessity” Scotland might have to pursue membership of the European Free Trade Association (Efta) before achieving full EU membership.
The SNP leader said her position remained that she wanted an independent Scotland to be in the EU.
“If Scotland is independent, our position always has been, as long as I’ve been in the SNP and continues to be, that we want Scotland to be a full member of the European Union,” she said.
“We don’t want to go into the Euro and no member of the EU can be forced into the Euro and Sweden is one of the examples of that.”
“Now we have to set out, if we’re in an independence referendum – and we’re not in that right now – the process for regaining or retaining, depending on where we are in the Brexit process, EU membership.
“Now it may be that we have a phased approach to that by necessity.”
Asked whether that could mean Efta membership first and EU membership later, she said: “It may be by necessity, even if we didn’t want that.”
Jackson Carlaw, Scottish Conservative deputy leader, responded to Ms Sturgeon’s words by describing her position on Europe as “complete chaos”.
He said: “She claims we must have a referendum on independence because we’re leaving the EU.
“Now, in a cynical attempt to win back Leave voters who have deserted the SNP, she now refuses to say whether an independent Scotland would go back in.
“And her flirtation with EFTA would leave us with all the obligations but no voice in decision-making.”
Labour’s Kezia Dugdale said: “The reality is the Nationalists have quietly shifted away from a policy of immediate EU membership if Scotland leaves the UK.
“Nicola Sturgeon claims Scotland must leave the UK because of Brexit, but won’t even commit to rejoining the EU straight away.”
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie, accused Nicola Sturgeon of “selling out pro Europeans” to win back Brexit supporters.
He added: “The SNP are using the EU as their excuse to call another independence vote but won’t guarantee Scotland in the EU will be a result of their vote.
“For the SNP it is always about independence. The EU and a vote on the terms of Brexit are the latest excuses.”