STATE schools have been warned over the controversial practice of teaching pupils in different groups based on their ability.

Sir Harry Burns, a leading academic and former chief medical officer for Scotland, said streaming pupils exacerbated social inequality.

One of the principles of the comprehensive system of state education was that pupils from different backgrounds would be taught together.

However it is still routine for primary schools to separate pupils into different groups based on their ability - particularly in literacy and numeracy.

Because of the impact of poverty on school attainment critics argue that often means children are grouped on the basis of social class.

Read more: Union backs end to streaming of pupils

The issue was raised by Sir Harry, professor of global public health at Strathclyde University, in a written submission to the Scottish Parliament’s education committee, which is looking at the link between poverty and school results.

He said: “Setting and streaming in primary and secondary sectors enshrines disadvantage.

“Children in poverty tend to be placed in low attainment groups and make less progress and often suffer a pedagogy of poverty with low teacher expectations, a repetitive curriculum, dependency culture and labelling by peers ... so are doubly disadvantaged.

“Some primaries are mistakenly streaming children or setting children for literacy and numeracy.”

The paper calls on school inspectors to monitor the practice and make it clear that “high attainment” and “high ability” are not the same things.

Sir Harry went on to question the Scottish Government’s current strategy of using standardised national testing to raise attainment.

Read more: Union backs end to streaming of pupils

Ministers believe the move will help close the attainment gap and raise standards for all.

However, Sir Harry said: “Instead of pushing nationwide testing and higher standards across the board, education reform should focus on schools in poor neighbourhoods with targeted investments designed to counteract the effects of poverty on educational achievement.”