SCOTTISH schools should reduce the importance of "seriously distorting" exams and consider abandoning Highers in future, an expert has said.

Keir Bloomer, an independent educational consultant, warned that secondary schools had become obsessed with delivering qualifications such as Highers and Advanced Highers rather than developing the wider strengths of pupils.

And he said exams were now being used by employers and universities as the only measure of whether a candidate was suitable for a job or further study.

The intervention comes after the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence in schools - which was supposed to reduce the burden of assessment on pupils and make learning broader.

However, Mr Bloomer, a former education director and chief executive of Clackmannanshire Council, said the system had not really changed.

Speaking at a conference organised by the Reform Scotland think tank, he said: "We should be giving serious thought to reducing the impact of end of school exams and seeing where that got us so we could begin to judge how far down that road we go.

"I think there is a sense in which the upper part of secondary school is very focused on a form of grading young people, the main purpose of which is to allow others to make judgements about their suitability for a variety of purposes including employment and entering into higher education.

"I don't think that is one of the main purposes of education and it gets in the way of serious educational work with young people in their mid teens in a way which I think is seriously distorting."

Mr Bloomer said the original intention of assessment was to establish how well pupils were progressing with their leaning and to identify where they needed to improve.

But he added: "We have now shifted to a situation where the purpose of assessment has become judgemental and decides whether someone is suitable for university, college or a job.

"Universities, colleges and universities should be doing that work themselves and they would probably do a better job of it, but we provide them with a system that is temptingly easy to use as a substitute."

Jim Thewliss, general secretary of School Leaders' Scotland, which represents secondary headteachers, said there would always be a place for the current exam system.

But he added: "While Scottish qualifications are held in high regard and serve as an important benchmark there is room for taking account of the wider spectrum of attainment of a pupil. It may be we need to develop a profile of achievement in future that includes exam results as well as other measures."

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union, said: "The introduction of CfE has reduced the primacy of exam performance at some levels, with increased emphasis on coursework and internal assessment based on the professional judgement of teachers.

"It is probable that, at more advanced levels such as Higher, formal exams will remain a vital element of measuring performance as young people look ahead at opportunities to access further and higher education and possible career choices."

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said admission to higher education was not just based on an applicant’s attainment of good exam results.

He added: "Consideration is also given to a student’s ability, aspiration and the potential they demonstrate in other areas, not just school assessments.

“Each university has different entrance requirements which are dependent on the course applied for, but they are all committed to ensuring that any pupil with the aptitude and potential to benefit from university, gets the chance."