A senior adviser to government has warned against "pushing nationwide testing" in schools.

Sir Harry Burns, who sits on the Scottish Government's Council of Economic Advisers, questioned the methods used to improve support for children and said there is often an "unreasonable" focus on targets.

He told MSPs there is evidence Scotland is "not using the best methods for improvement" in schools.

In a submission to Holyrood's Education Committee which is holding an inquiry into the impact of poverty on educational attainment, he said evidence shows a supportive environment can help mitigate the damage caused to children by adverse early years.

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He said schools seem "key" to this but added: "How do we design such support? There is plenty evidence that we are not using the best methods for improvement.

"The use of targets and standards to improve public services can, in some circumstances, help.

"However, what we are seeing in many cases is unreasonable concentration on process targets and not enough understanding of outcomes and what causes them."

He added: "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.

"This process might involve such diverse activities as preschool and extended school hours, nutrition support, health care involvement, particularly for mental health issues, as well as parental training and mentoring programs to improve household stability."

National tests in numeracy and literacy were introduced this term for school children in P1, P4, P7 and S3, and have faced controversy, with calls for them to be scrapped for the youngest.

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Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Tavish Scott said national testing in schools was an "SNP obsession".

He said: "Now a senior, serious player - Sir Harry Burns - says that testing is counterproductive.

"If this government cared about finding solutions that work they would listen. I for one am not holding my breath."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Education is this government's defining priority and we are committed to creating a world-class system that closes the attainment gap and enables all our children to succeed.

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The introduction of standardised assessments is one element of the work we are doing to ensure we have more data than ever on children's progress in their learning under Curriculum for Excellence - data that will be used to help drive improvement across Scottish education.

"The Scottish Attainment Challenge, including Pupil Equity Funding, has been introduced precisely for the purpose highlighted by Sir Harry - to counteract the effects of poverty on educational achievement."