Professor Alan Smithers, of Buckingham university's centre for education and employment research, sat on the National Curriculum Council, which voted to introduce the rankings over a decade ago. But giving evidence at a National Association of Head Teachers inquiry into testing this week, he said that, with the benefit of hindsight, he had made a mistake and that the Government should no longer publish the tables.
"Schools should be testing children for their benefit, not for schools, local authorities or the Government," he said. "The emphasis has been placed on good scores and the less measurable aspects of schools have tended to get marginalised."
He said that national curriculum tests should be maintained, but there was no need to publish the data centrally.
Sylvia Green, research director at the Cambridge Assessment exam board and a former teacher, said the problem was that schools were "locked into" the testing system.
"One problem is that so many agencies use the data for so many purposes, including funding decisions and Ofsted inspections. We are almost locked into this, but we are trying to find a key," she said.
Warwick Mansell, TES reporter and author of Education by Numbers: The Tyranny of Testing, argued passionately for reform of the current assessment regime to encourage creative and inspirational teaching.
Professor Smithers said league tables and targets were responsible for the shortage of heads because school leaders felt as accountable and stressed as football managers, but they were paid much lower salaries despite recent rises.