EDUCATION Secretary John Swinney has been accused of the “mother of all climbdowns” after shelving his flagship school legislation.

As The Herald revealed yesterday the Scottish Government has put its controversial Education (Scotland) Bill on hold because of a lack of parliamentary support.

The Bill was intended to introduce a new Headteachers’ Charter giving school leaders power to set the curriculum, hire staff and control their own finances.

It was also brought forward to underpin new regional bodies set up to support school improvement.

However, Mr Swinney told the Scottish Parliament he no longer intended to proceed with the Bill for at least a year.

Instead, Mr Swinney said he would “fast-track” change in collaboration with local authorities.

Following the statement opposition politicians accused the minister of presiding over a “shambles”.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already made education her top priority and the Education Bill was described as the “centrepiece” of their legislative programme.

Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservative Party, said: “I am frankly astonished by the content of this statement as will thousands of parents, teachers and young people across Scotland.

“I have only one question. Is the cabinet secretary not embarrassed by this complete shambles of a U-turn?

“It not only breaks the SNP’s promise to the people of Scotland, but now leaves schools with even more uncertainty.”

Iain Gray, education spokesman for the Scottish Labour Party, said the “unwanted, unnecessary and misguided” Bill had “sailed off into the sunset”.

He said: “The only think being fast-tracked here is the mother of all ministerial climbdowns.

“The First Minister’s top priority, her sacred obligation, is now reduced to just another last minute, cobbled together joint agreement."

Ross Greer, for the Scottish Greens said: "This is a humiliating moment for the deputy first minister, whose proposals have been rejected by teachers, parents and opposition parties in parliament."

And Liberal Democrat education spokesman Tavish Scott was also critical saying: "Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly said education is her number one priority, but she couldn't even be bothered to turn up to see her legislative centrepiece vanish like lines off a classroom smartboard."

However, Mr Swinney defended the strategy arguing he could still bring the legislation forward in twelve months time if councils did not make sufficient progress.

He said: "We are fast tracking progress and so we expect progress to be sustained and swift.

"The Scottish Government and Scotland's local councils have reached an agreement that endorses and embraces the principles of school empowerment and provides clear commitment to a school and teacher led education system.

"And it does so without the need to wait 18 months for an Education Bill."

The announcement that legislation was being put on hold came after the government's own expert body, the International Council of Education Advisers, urged it to "keep any legislative interventions to a minimum".

The final report of the International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA), published yesterday, recommended collaboration as the way forward with any legislation "kept to a minimum".

ICEA said a raft of unintended consequences of using the law included increased bureaucracy and a lack of trust and confidence.

Instead, ICEA recommended a focus on improving subject teaching, developing effective leadership and ensuring teachers were properly supported.

Mr Swinney also confirmed that plans to scrap the General Teaching Council of Scotland (GTCS) and transfer its functions to a new Education Workforce Council had been scrapped.

Mr Swinney said he accepted the "strength of feeling" in the sector to keep the GTCS.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, welcomed the government's decision to "pause" the legislation and give Scottish education the "breathing space" that teachers had been asking for.