RECENT education reforms could lead to students suffering poorer results, according to a controversial new report.

The warning follows the roll-out of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) in Scottish schools, which was inspired partly by the example of Finland.

For years, the country has been seen as an international success story with the country regularly topping international league tables.

Particular strengths of the Finnish system, adopted under CfE, were a strong focus on the needs of individual pupils, a flexible curriculum with more local decision-making by teachers and fewer formal exams.

However, an international expert said the success of the country's education system was based on an earlier more standardised, traditional approach and recent reforms were actually undermining its success.

The report, for the London-based Centre for Policy Studies, said Finnish education scores were at the top of the international PISA league tables in the early and mid-2000s, but had now begun to slip.

The report's author, Gabriel Heller Sahlgren, said: "The most popular policy-related reasons for Finland's rise to prominence clearly do not stand up to scrutiny. "Research does not support them, and, above all, the improvements began before many of the highlighted policies were even introduced. If anything, they coincide with Finland's recent slippage."

Mr Sahlgren said many educational systems, including Scotland's, should be wary of any changes introduced which copied the Finnish system.

He added: "The strongest policy lesson to take from Finland's performance is the danger of throwing out authority in schools and especially getting rid of knowledge-based, teacher dominated instruction.

"Finnish teachers were for many decades traditional in their approach, reinforcing a hierarchical schooling culture. This presents a warning to many countries aspiring to emulate Finland's success - including England and Scotland."

However, the analysis came under fire from Brian Boyd, former professor of education at Strathclyde University, who described it as "hardly objective".

He said: "It is attempting to use a modest fall in world rankings to justify an argument that traditional, authoritarian, knowledge-based teacher instruction is best for Scottish schools.

"Scotland's commitment to child-centred learning is admired across the world and if Scotland is committed to a fairer, more just society, then its current educational trajectory is the correct one."

A spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union said the report was "slanted" with conclusions "at odds" with international evidence.

He said: "In Scotland, there remains a very strong belief that we can enhance our education system by studying best practice from successful countries around the world, such as Finland, and adapting this to meet the needs of our learners.

"The ongoing development of CfE incorporates elements that have proven effective elsewhere, such as a more pupil-centred focus which relies less on testing in order to better engage pupils' creativity and encourage deeper learning."

A government spokeswoman added: "We have secured Scotland's standing in the OECD's international Pisa survey, including out-performing an increasing number of countries in maths and reading.

"The ongoing reform of our education system is successfully preparing our young people for the world of work and further and higher education."

The row follows visits by a number of Scottish education ministers to Finland in recent years, including Labour's Peter Peacock and the SNP's Michael Russell.