Last night opposition parties said the offer was proof that the Scottish Government had backtracked on key manifesto pledges.

It also came as new figures showed more than a quarter of newly-qualified teachers in Scotland cannot find a job, plunging the SNP’s education policy into further turmoil.

On class sizes, Mr Russell held talks with local authority leaders in Cosla about a new deal which, if agreed, could mean 11,000 more primary one to three pupils taught in classes of 18 or less by August next year.

In return for that the Government will give councils flexibility when introducing free school meals, allowing authorities to bring this in the most deprived areas first.

The deal, which will now be put to council leaders, comes just days after Mr Russell took over as Education Secretary.

His predecessor, Fiona Hyslop, was sacked after she blamed councils for a drop in teacher numbers and threatened to strip them of responsibility for education.

In its election manifesto the SNP pledged to cut class sizes to 18 for primaries one to three. Current party policy is also to provide free school meals for youngsters in the first three years of primary.

Last night Labour claimed the SNP had ripped up their manifesto and the concordat arrangement with local authorities.

Leader Iain Gray said: "This is a damning admission by the SNP of their failure to deliver the big promises they made."

However Mr Russell said: "Intensive discussions over the last week between representatives of Cosla and the Scottish Government have produced a framework for further sustained progress between now and 2011 on the key concordat education commitments.

"This framework will now be discussed with the leaders of Scotland’s local authorities. Cosla will feed back their views with the aim of securing a renewed and strengthened agreement focusing on delivery at a time of increasing financial pressure on the Scottish Government and on local authorities, given the reductions in public expenditure being forced by Westminster."

Tory schools spokeswoman Liz Smith said: "The SNP should admit that the game is up. It can apply all the sticking plasters it likes to its broken education pledges, but until Alex Salmond and the SNP wake up to the real issues nothing will get better.

"The historic concordat has now been consigned to history."

Meanwhile, new figures show some 27.5%, or about 800, of teachers who finished their probation year in June were not working in classrooms, either permanently or on supply lists, by October, compared with 21% the previous year and just 5.3% when the annual survey began in 2005.

Amid claims councils are trying to save money by not taking on full-time staff, the General Teaching Council for Scotland survey found the proportion of graduates on part-time contracts had increased, but the percentage of probationers with full-time permanent contracts had fallen from 30% last year to 20%.

Opposition politicians said the latest statistics piled even more pressure on Mr Russell, to solve the recruitment crisis.

Labour’s education spokesman Des McNulty said: "We have some of the best qualified young teachers in Scotland who are being thrown on the scrapheap because of the failure of Scottish ministers."

Mr Russell said the Government had "already taken action by reducing the intake numbers into teacher education and offering councils the ability to free up teaching posts through the early retiral scheme".