Scottish Government 'stalling' on education reforms
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon denies bill has been 'kicked into the long grass'.
Opposition parties have accused the Scottish Government of "stalling" and kicking education reform "into the long grass".
Nicola Sturgeon took questions on a delay to the Scottish Government's Education Bill during First Minister's Questions at Holyrood.
The proposed legislation had been promised early this year but this week education secretary John Swinney said it would be published "sometime during 2017".
Swinney said he needs time to "chew over" some 1100 responses to the government's review of school governance, which will feed into the bill.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said education reform is on a "slow train", while Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said it had been "kicked into the long grass".
Davidson said: "We've seen literacy standards slipping, we've seen numeracy standards sliding, we've seen Curriculum for Excellence failing and now we've seen her education secretary stalling.
"She keeps putting their referendum on the front foot but she's putting everyone else's child's education on the back burner.
"Hasn't her government got their priorities all wrong on this?"
Sturgeon said: "Every time Ruth Davidson stands up in this chamber all she manages to do is shoot herself in the foot.
"I want to talk about education and she just continually tries to shoe-horn in the mentions of independence and a referendum.
"We have had the consultation on governance reform. We have received over 1000 responses to that consultation and it's right and proper that the education secretary considers all of those responses and then comes forward to parliament with our proposals on the way forward."
The First Minister said the governance review was just one element of education reform, citing the Government's attainment challenge, pupil equity funding and national improvement framework.
Dugdale claimed parents and teachers were "in the dark" about the SNP's education plans.
She said: "As we've just heard, the education secretary has kicked the consultation on how schools are run into the long grass.
"The First Minister said that's just one part of her education reforms, and she's right. There's also the Education Bill, the very symbol of this government's apparent number one priority - it has been kicked into the long grass, too.
"The SNP's power grab to centralise every school budget in the country, kicked into the long grass as well. And the roll-out of national testing, which she also mentioned, has been delayed as well.
"Education was the First Minister's defining mission. Isn't it the case that education is defining this government as indecisive and distracted?"
Sturgeon said the question revealed Ms Dugdale as a "pound shop Ruth Davidson", adding "maybe more like buy one get one free".
She said: "We're giving £120m direct to head teachers in almost every single one of our schools across the country. Giving resources and the power to use those resources direct to head teachers.
"Only in the world of Scottish Labour could that be described as centralising education budgets. It is the exact opposition of centralising education budgets."
Other opposition parties also questioned Ms Sturgeon on education.
Green co-convener Patrick Harvie spoke of "shocking" evidence given to Holyrood's Education Committee this week over provisions for school pupils with additional support needs.
He spoke of a one-in-seven reduction in additional support needs teachers since 2010, at a time when a quarter of young people are now recognised as having extra needs.
Ms Sturgeon said: "I do think there is quite a fundamental point here. Something like 95% of all children with additional support needs are taught in mainstream schools.
"We must not see the support that they need as just being support that they get from additional support teachers. Every single teacher working in our schools has a responsibility to provide the support that those young people need."
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie likened Sturgeon's approach to that of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government.
He said: "The First Minister's support for national testing would have been met with approval from Margaret Thatcher and her minister Michael Forsyth, who believed in the same, divisive approach.
"Nicola Sturgeon's comments today even directly echo that of Michael Forsyth. But they are wrong.
"It's time the First Minister abandoned this dangerous Thatcher-like approach."