On tests of "operational techniques", French pupils had an average score of 74 per cent compared with 58 per cent for the Scots. In geometry, the French scored an average 80 per cent against 60 per cent here. Among primary 4 pupils, the French achieved 60 per cent to 40 per cent in Scotland.
The research, reported in the newsletter of the European Network of policy-makers for the evaluation of education systems, says that bilateral comparisons of performance are easier to arrange than wider ones because test items accord with what pupils have been studying. But there were limitations to this. For example, French 11-year-olds had been concentrating on geometry to a greater extent than the Scots.
However, the claim made for other comparisons that the Scots were younger than other nationalities did not apply. On average the French were 10 months younger. At primary 4, Scots were better at measurement than the French. Later problems occur with decimals because old measuring units are still used, the French authors of the report claim.
The research results follow the uncomfortable findings of the Third International Maths and Science Study in June which put Scotland well down the league table. The TES revealed last week that in the TIMSS practical tests Scottish pupils came sixth out of 19 countries, with England in second place.
The study is being played down despite the Education Minister's concern about standards. A Scottish Office spokesman said: "This is not a valid comparative survey. It tested methods in which pupils are taught, not their abilities. "