HEADTEACHERS have hit out over a government decision to shelve legislation that would have given them more power.

School Leaders Scotland (SLS), which represents the secondary sector, said an opportunity to drive “significant positive change” had been lost.

And the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS) warned the move to a negotiated future structure "lacked clarity"

On Tuesday, Education Secretary John Swinney was accused of the “mother of all climbdowns” after shelving his flagship school legislation.

Mr Swinney decided to put his 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.

Mr Swinney told the Scottish Parliament he no longer intended to proceed with the Bill for at least a year and instead would “fast-track” change in collaboration with local authorities.

However, the agreement with council umbrella body Cosla means there is less certainty over what changes will be made and how the new structures will work.

Jim Thewliss, general secretary of SLS, said: "We are disappointed in the decision not to legislate in regard of the Headteachers Charter.

"We felt that empowering headteachers to address issues and opportunities in a manner best suited to the specific circumstances of their school was a powerful way to improve the life chances of Scotland’s young people.

"We feel that by having proportionate access to the appropriate levers of power headteachers could have driven significant positive change."

Greg Dempster, general secretary of AHDS, added: "There were concerns from primary headteachers about some of the proposals, but it was felt that at least legislation would have given some clarity.

He said: "The crucial factor as negotiations continue with councils is that we do not add to the burden of bureaucracy facing headteachers because it is already impacting on interest in the job."

Joanna Murphy, chairwoman of the National Parent Forum Scotland, also expressed concern.

She said: "I have received Mr Swinney's personal reassurance that parental engagement remains a priority for the Scottish Government.

"While we are disappointed that the parental involvement legislation will not be strengthened and modernised as our review found to be necessary we are hopeful the ongoing local government discussions will incorporate what would have been part of the legislation."

A Cosla spokesman said: "We are pleased that the important role local authorities play has been recognised and that we will retain a central role in the design and development of the curriculum and ultimately the delivery of every aspect of education."

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