Opposition politicians, businesses and parents all seized on the figures showing a significant decline in the proportion of the most able children from P4 and P7 to S2, the three age groups monitored.
More than 90 per cent of pupils at all the stages were working within or above the expected level for reading and writing, according to the sample survey, which will look at literacy and numeracy in alternate years.
However, the number performing very well at reading in S2 dropped to 45 per cent from 60 per cent in P7, while those performing below the expected level rose to 15 per cent from 10 per cent.
In writing, 72 per cent of P7 pupils performed well or very well, against 64 per cent by S2. For talking and listening, the figures fell to 46 per cent in S2 from 58 per cent in P7.
“Schools across Scotland are doing a good job and we know from recent inspection reports that they continue to improve,” said Alasdair Allan, the learning minister. I am pleased that our schools are achieving and sustaining high performance in reading and writing.
“Of course, we want all children to achieve their full potential and that is why we continue to focus on driving up standards.”
He added: “The Curriculum for Excellence makes literacy the responsibility of all teachers, while pupils now focus on these key skills across learning.”
He also said the government was intent on tackling a continued link between deprivation and lower literacy.
Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said the figures showed the “drift in engagement so often apparent” as pupils start secondary.
Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives, demanded tougher testing before secondary. She said: “Literacy and numeracy are the cornerstone of good quality Scottish education and we believe there should be much more rigorous testing of the basic skills before pupils leave primary.”.
Lauren Paterson of CBI Scotland said that unless young people made sustained progress in literacy and numeracy during their time in education, “they face major difficulties subsequently in their working lives”.