THE BBC and Andrew Neil have been carpeted by the broadcasting regulator after they tried to claim a Tory “fact” about Scottish school kids being “functionally illiterate” was true.

In a 2017 interview with Alex Salmond on the Sunday Politics - broadcast a week before the country went to the polls in the snap general election - Neil asked the former First Minister: “why after a decade of SNP rule do one in five Scots pupils leave primary school functionally illiterate?”

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That claim was challenged by a primary school teacher who was watching the show, and who eventually complained to Ofcom.

Neil defended his question, telling Ofcom it was “all too credible, even if not exactly accurate, as I now realise”.

The veteran broadcaster admitted: “It would have been better if I had phrased my question along the lines of ‘why is literacy among Scottish school pupils still so bad – and maybe even getting worse’.”

But Neil said he did not accept that the question “seriously misled viewers about the gravity of the situation” and that “evidence is strong that illiteracy in Scottish schools is still deeply embedded in the system and that, far from improving, is likely getting worse, even after 10 years of SNP government.”

Ofcom disagreed, saying the question gave viewers “the false impression that Mr Neil’s question was founded on an established fact or source”.

The watchdog said Neil “misrepresented statistics on literacy among Scottish primary school children in a way that would have had the potential to affect negatively and erroneously viewers’ understanding of educational standards in Scotland, at a time when those standards were being strongly debated during an election in that country.”

The National: The literacy figures cited by Andrew Neil were from a Tory press releaseThe literacy figures cited by Andrew Neil were from a Tory press release

The BBC has admitted that it should have made clear that the claim had come from “the education spokeswoman of the Scottish Conservatives.”

Keith Brown, the SNP’s depute leader, said the mess was evidence that the broadcaster was still struggling to “get to grips” with devolution.

He told The National: “It is unsurprising that a school teacher knows more about education in Scotland than Andrew Neil or the BBC do.

“Like Ofcom, I too am also deeply concerned not only with the handling of this case but also about how the BBC network continues to struggle to get to grips with the realities of devolution.

“20 years on from the opening of the Scottish Parliament, eleven years on from the King Report and yet still the BBC network regularly falls short when it comes to reporting not just from Scotland but across the nations and regions. The corporation’s London centric view persists.”

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The BBC were also criticised for leaving the exchange on the Sunday Politics website until March last year, long after they knew it was not true.

A BBC spokesman said they would study Ofcom’s findings.

The most recent Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN), showed that the literacy skills of Scotland’s school pupils declined slightly between 2012 and 2016.

The SSLN tests the reading, writing, listening and talking skills of a sample of pupils in P4, P7 and S2, with school kids being graded as “performing very well”, “performing well”, “working within the level”, and “not yet working within the level”.

To get the “one in five” statistic, the Tories had wrongly defined functional illiteracy, and misinterpreted the figures, lumping together S2 pupils who were either “working within the level” or “not yet working within the level”.

The SSLN has since been discontinued, and will, eventually be replaced by Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs).