NATIONAL tests for primary and secondary pupils in literacy and numeracy could damage science teaching, according to leading experts.

They claim that evidence from England showed science had been marginalised after the subject was dropped from national tests in 2009.

A paper on testing from the influential group, The Learned Societies’ Group on Scottish Science Education, has warned ministers of other "potential unintended consequences".

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced earlier this year that standardised testing for primary and secondary pupils was to be reintroduced.

The move came after the biennial Scottish Survey of Literacy found standards of reading and writing were falling despite the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence, which was expected to raise basic standards.

Although most councils use standardised tests the Scottish Government is concerned there is no national picture of how well different schools are performing.

The paper on the proposals from the Learned Societies, whose group includes the Scottish Mathematical Council, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Society of Biology, states: "It is instructive to consider the developments in England where Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) have been used to assess the attainment of children attending maintained schools since the early 1990s.

"In May 2009 science SATs were abolished in England, with national testing in literacy and numeracy continuing. Research undertaken by the Wellcome Trust has shown that since the abolition of the science testing, almost two thirds of teachers surveyed felt that science was now regarded as being of lesser importance in their school when compared with mathematics and English.

"Furthermore, Ofsted has directly linked a decline in science teaching with the fact that,whilst English and Maths were still subject to national testing, science was not."

The group also said it was concerned that the focus on reading, writing and numeracy throughout the draft National Assessment Framework could also have

an adverse impact on other important areas of teacher education and professional development, including those relating to science.

And it urged the Scottish Government to set out how it intended to offset other potential downsides of national testing such as teaching to the test, narrowing of the curriculum, increasing workload and bureaucracy for schools and increasing stress levels among teachers and pupils.

However, it also accepts the underlying rationale for testing stating that, under the present arrangements, there is not a consistent approach for collecting school performance data.

In 2003, the former Labour-led Scottish Executive scrapped national testing because of the concern teachers had become overly-focused on "teaching to the test" rather than educating pupils.

As a result, the national survey of five to 14 attainment, which tested every pupil in primary school and the first two years of secondary school, was replaced by a system of scientific sampling to track the performance of a proportion of pupils.

The majority of Scotland's local authorities still use some form of standardised assessment to judge pupils' progress, but because they use different systems building a national picture of attainment is difficult.

An Audit Scotland report from 2014 found there were no comparable measures available at a council and national level on the performance of pupils from P1-S3.

However, standardised testing is controversial because opponents believe it leads to teachers teaching to the test and allows damaging league tables to be drawn up which compare schools serving different communities.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We recognise the importance of a good quality Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) education and we have committed to on-going support for Stem education, particularly in the primary sector, as part of our efforts to improve attainment.

"The National Improvement Framework will draw in a range of information that, taken in context will help us improve attainment and inform action to close the attainment gap. The Framework will focus initially on raising attainment in reading, writing and numeracy – these are the key skills that children need to do well across the curriculum, including science. Wider aspects of the Framework will be developed from 2017 and this will involve other curricular areas..”