NICOLA Sturgeon’s education reforms have been “kicked into the long grass” as ministers drown in a sea of consultations instead of delivering results, opposition parties have claimed.

In heated scenes at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon strongly denied the charges, but conceded her government still had “so much more work to do”.

The Conservatives and Labour levelled the criticism after John Swinney delayed publication of his flagship Education Bill from this week to “sometime during 2017”.

The Education Secretary said he needed time to “chew over” around 1100 consultation responses to a review of school governance, which will inform the Bill.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said that despite Ms Sturgeon making education and closing the attainment gap her top priority, it was clear reform was “on the slow train”.

She said: “A year-and-a-half ago, the First Minister staked her reputation on reforming Scotland's schools and what have we seen since then?

"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?"

Ms 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 shoehorn in the mentions of independence and a referendum.

“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 one part of education reform, alongside the attainment challenge, pupil equity funding and national improvement framework.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said the Education Bill was part of a wider pattern of government inertia, noting ministers had launched 121 consultations since last May.

She said: “The Education Secretary has kicked the consultation on how schools are run into the long grass. The Education Bill, the very symbol of this Government's apparent number one priority - it has been kicked into the long grass too.

"Education was the First Minister's defining mission. Isn't it the case that education is defining this Government as indecisive and distracted?"

Ms Sturgeon called Ms Dugdale a “pound shop Ruth Davidson”.

The Labour leader said that was “beneath her—it is what we expected of Alex Salmond, not what we expect of the First Minister who is committed to closing the [attainment] gap.”

Ms Dugdale went on: “The Government has launched more than 120 consultations and reviews, which is three a week. The enterprise review alone has three reviews within it and the health and social care delivery plan has another four reviews within it.

“There is even a review into the review of fracking. That might make sense if this were a new government, but this SNP Government has been in place for 10 years.

“I know the First Minister has only one thing on her mind, but when is she going to stop talking about governing and actually start doing some governing?”

Ms Sturgeon said she would “never stop talking to, engaging with and consulting the people of Scotland” and said Labour’s failure to the same had ruined it electorally.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie questioned whether there was enough support in schools for the quarter of pupils identified as having additional support needs.

Ms Sturgeon said: “If the Government needs to take further action, I will work with the education secretary to make sure that we do that.”