GIVING pupils more challenging books to read is a better way to improve standards of literacy than controversial plans for testing, an expert has said.

Professor Keith Topping, from Dundee University's School of Education, issued the warning as the Scottish Government presses ahead with proposals for national assessments in basic skills for pupils in both primary and secondary schools.

Ministers have said the tests will be designed to help teachers assess pupil attainment and will not be a repeat of unpopular standardised assessments south of the Border, which have led to school league tables.

However, Mr Topping said the approach was still of concern - particularly in secondary after a study by assessment provider Renaissance UK found Scottish 11 to 16-year-olds were not reading challenging enough books.

He said: "At secondary level pupils have a capacity to select and read more challenging books, but the problem is that the more government influence you have and the more the curriculum becomes over-stuffed the harder that becomes.

"In Scotland that squeeze on reading time is in danger of increasingly becoming the case as the government seems to be looking to England as a model of things to introduce, such as standardised testing, which I would regard as bordering on the disastrous.

"The Scottish Government is not showing an awful lot of initiative in terms of developing a catalogue of interventions that have been shown to work."

Mr Topping said a better way of improving literacy was for schools to encourage teenagers to make book recommendations to each other because they would pay more attention to their peer group rather than parents or teachers.

He said: "It is possible within schools for teachers and librarians to have some arrangement where children can make recommendations to other pupils about what the best books they have read are.

"What we have found is that when they read favoured books, pupils find them very enjoyable even if they tend to be more challenging than those they are used to reading."

The study of an estimated 26,210 Scottish pupils, conducted by Mr Topping for Renaissance UK, noted that primary pupils typically pushed themselves to read more complex books than secondary school pupils.

Renaissance UK said it believed the challenge in secondary schools might be caused by the decreased emphasis placed on reading between the ages of 11 and 16.

It called for secondary schools to consider building dedicated reading time into the curriculum to ensure pupils did not fall behind.

These findings were released as part of Renaissance’s 2017 What Kids Are Reading report which surveys the reading habits of 848,219 UK children across 3,897 primary schools throughout the entire 2015/16 academic year.

It found the most popular books in Scotland for pupils aged between nine and 11 were The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, and The Creeping Bookends by Michael Dahl.