The Scottish Government has held private discussions about creating new regional education boards to help deliver sweeping changes to the country’s schools system.

Modelled on the controversial reform of the college sector, the plan could result in powers being transferred from local councils to a new “middle” tier.

However, Labour Opportunities spokesman Iain Gray last night accused the SNP of pursuing changes by the "backdoor".

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said her top political priority is closing an educational attainment gap that sees pupils from deprived backgrounds get poorer grades than children from prosperous areas.

READ MORE: Scrapping Scottish school exams could improve education

If the SNP is re-elected next month, the party will plough £750m into a Scottish Attainment Fund and back standardised testing in primary and secondary schools.

Sturgeon has also promised a “revolution” in transparency about performance and will publish school-by-school information on pupil achievement.

However, education sources told this newspaper the current structure of delivering education will make it difficult to achieve Sturgeon’s aims.

National education policy is set by Parliament, but 32 local authorities deliver the service on the ground.

The quality of data measuring performance in schools is also said to be patchy compared to the NHS.

The Sunday Herald has learned that one option being discussed by civil servants and Ministers is to create new regional boards to drive reform.

The bodies would be responsible for coordinating the activities of the different parts of the education sector and driving forward national priorities.

In its manifesto, the SNP explicitly stated that local authorities would have less of a say in delivering schools policy.

“We will ensure strong national standards but also empower local schools. We will extend to individual schools responsibilities that currently sit solely with local authorities, allocate more resources directly to headteachers and enable them to take decisions based on local circumstances.”

In an overlooked section of the document, the SNP promised to “create new educational regions to decentralise management and support”.

The manifesto also made a commitment to “review the roles and responsibilities of local authorities”.

READ MORE: Scrapping Scottish school exams could improve education

In the last term of the Parliament, the Government created regional boards to oversee college provision in areas that had multiple further education establishments. The school plan is believed to be based on the college system.

At an election hustings last week, Education Cabinet Secretary Angela Constance said councils had the “legal and operational responsibility to deliver education”, but added: “We do need to think about, and untangle, what decisions are appropriately taken at national level, what decisions should be taken at local authority level, and also what decisions should be taken at school level.”

Asked about educational regions, she said: “This is perhaps more a philosophical point. Our thinking has also been informed by the regionalisation of colleges and how that has enabled better collaboration between colleges and schools.”

An SNP source said the party’s thinking was rooted in an OECD report last year on Scottish education, which called for a robust “middle” tier in school delivery.

However, any move to regional boards would likely be resisted by councils, as the budget for schools accounts for around 40% of local authority spending.

If education was gradually removed from local democratic control, councils would effectively be responsible for social work, roads and refuse collection.

Gray said: "The SNP’s track record on mergers and reform has been nothing short of disastrous so far when we look at Police Scotland and colleges, so they need to spell out what these plans are for. They cannot reorganise how Scotland’s schools are run by the backdoor. With our schools and local services facing hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts, the last thing they need is yet more reorganisation."

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Liam McArthur said:

"SNP Ministers in Edinburgh have snatched control of teacher recruitment policies, moved towards national standardised testing and imposed swingeing cuts on services against the wishes of councils. On the face of if this looks like a move to cut local authorities out of the loop altogether on education. We need to know what this shift would mean for local accountability and oversight of our children's schools."

Asked specifically about plans to create regional boards, an SNP spokesperson said: “Scotland's education system is very good, and over the next 5 years we will take steps to restore it to pride of place as one of the best in the world.

“As part of that we will give parents and teachers greater influence over the daily life of the school, empower headteachers with direct funding and make sure the structures around education in Scotland deliver the best results for our children.

“Schools working together in clusters can help to develop specialisms, share skills and experiences and by creating new educational regions we can deliver more support to schools creating communities of leadership, collaboration and innovation.”