FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of a "significant climbdown" over plans to introduce standardised national tests for Scottish primary and secondary pupils after it emerged they will not be compulsory and results will not be published.

Opposition parties went on the attack after the publication of the Scottish Government's flagship National Improvement Framework, which includes the plans for new tests.

The Scottish Government originally stated that "the heart" of the framework would be new national standardised assessments for children in P1, P4, P7 and in the third year of secondary focussing on progress in literacy and numeracy.

However, ministers have decided that legislating to make the tests compulsory is unnecessary and will also not publish data from the assessments.

Instead, the Scottish Government will publish the attainment levels pupils have reached in literacy and numeracy under existing Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) benchmarks which are based on the professional judgement of teachers, backed up by evidence from the new tests.

Iain Gray, education spokesman for the Scottish Labour Party, said: "To say the new framework is underwhelming would be generous. Scottish Labour does not support a return to high stakes testing in primary schools, but for the First Minister this is a significant climbdown.

"For almost a year the First Minister has been spinning her national testing as a bold new move when in fact the only information to be published will be CfE levels which are already available."

Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservative Party, said serious questions remained as to how the original policy intentions would be delivered.

She said: "It seems the First Minister is now reluctant to publish some of the data which she previously said was essential for providing parents with maximum information about the progress of their child and their school.

"The whole point of the National Improvement Framework is to ensure there are no loopholes when it comes to local authorities delivering higher standards in our schools. It is still not clear what constitutes the framework and what legislation will cover."

However, the Scottish Government insisted councils would sign up to use the new tests following consultation with the Association of Directors of Education Scotland (Ades) - the body that represents officials who run council education departments.

A spokesman said: "We have worked closely with Ades throughout the consultation process and it is our expectation that all local authorities will participate without the need for legislation."

And unveiling the framework at a conference in Glasgow Ms Sturgeon said it was right that teachers' judgement would be "at the heart of the system".

She said: "This teacher judgement data, underpinned by the new assessments, will be collected and published nationally each year to give us for the very first time a clear and consistent picture of how children and young people are progressing in their learning.

"The information will allow us over the next few years to set clear, specific and meaningful milestones on the road to closing the attainment gap.

"I want to be clear that my personal determination is that we are able to see and demonstrate progress on both excellence and equity by the end of the next parliament."

Teaching unions welcomed the changes to the framework, but warned there could still be unintended consequences for schools.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said: "We remain unconvinced about the need for new national standardised tests although we welcome the fact the results of these are subsumed within a teacher’s professional judgment of progress.

"The litmus test will be whether teachers see them as useful in terms of supporting children’s learning or as a bureaucratic imposition."

Stephanie Primrose, education spokeswoman for council umbrella body Cosla added: "If indeed the government has changed its view on some of our key concerns and we avoid heaping pressure on pupils and teachers to do well in the assessments and discourage the development of league tables, then we have taken a positive step forward."

However, there was an angry reaction from the Scottish Liberal Democrats who said league tables could still be compiled under the publication of the CfE data.

Willie Rennie, the party's leader, said the decision was a “throwback to Thatcherism” and that the plans would undermine the work of teachers and the ambitions of CfE.

Ms Sturgeon, who visited a school in Falkirk yesterday, has made closing the attainment gap between pupils from rich and poor backgrounds a key aim for her Government with the national tests intended to provide clearer and more consistent information about how children are performing

It comes on the back of a £100 million drive to help schools in the most disadvantaged areas over the next four years via the Scottish Government's Attainment Fund.