Scotland's education minister has said school pupils from poorer backgrounds need more help and guidance to achieve better grades.
Disadvantaged children face obstacles to their education
Peter Peacock said tackling the "stark" link between poverty and pupil performance was the biggest challenge facing the education system.
Among developed countries, Scotland has the fifth highest number of young people not in education.
The Scottish Tories said the minister must offer "solutions not sympathy".
But Mr Peacock said the Scottish Executive was committed to eradicating the problem.
A study by the Scottish Executive has revealed that Scotland has the fifth highest proportion of pupils leaving school with no job or place at university, college or in training in the developed world.
Statistics show that 15% of the most deprived areas in Scotland account for 26% of all school absences.
The study also found that the difference in educational attainment between the 15% most deprived areas and the whole of Scotland was the equivalent of two Standard Grades.
Mr Peacock said too many children were not receiving adequate support to deal with their problems.
"Pupils from the most deprived areas account for higher levels of absence, lower levels of attainment and are more likely to leave school without any qualifications," he said.
"Turning this round is the biggest single challenge facing our otherwise high-performing education system.
"Schools can and do make a profound difference to the lives of their pupils and a more sustained effort on our part will help release the potential of more young people, and their communities, and help break the cycle of deprivation."
The Tories want tighter discipline in schools
The minister said a programme of reform would prove successful but he urged everyone within the education system not to underestimate the challenges ahead.
"Fixing the fallout of deprivation will require sustained effort for a generation and more," said Mr Peacock.
Tory education spokesman, James Douglas-Hamilton, said: "Now that we have identified the problem and Scotland is shown to be at the wrong end of the league table, it's disappointing to hear Mr Peacock offering nothing but sympathy. He needs to offer solutions as well.
"Scottish Conservatives are determined to implement policies that give our most disadvantaged young people the greatest opportunities."
He said the party would ensure greater freedom for headteachers and school boards, stronger powers over exclusion of unruly pupils and increase opportunities for vocational training.