A strike at Scotland's national exam body scheduled for next week has been called off after an agreement between unions and management.

The move follows talks between the Unite union and senior officials from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

Although the union has not ended its formal dispute with the SQA, the breakthrough reduces significantly the risk of any industrial action.

Dr Janet Brown, chief executive of the SQA, has also issued a surprise apology to staff in a letter.

READ MORE: Delay fears over exam results as first ever SQA strikes announced

Last week, Unite announced the first ever strikes at the SQA, threatening the results of thousands of pupils.

The dates were chosen to target the period when marks for National, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications are processed and certificates produced for candidates.

However, the first day of action has been called off after a joint agreement between unions and the SQA to "transform" the culture of the body.

The statement said: "Taking on board feedback from staff, senior management and Unite will develop a comprehensive programme to improve leadership, culture and values-led behaviour, across all of SQA. 

"SQA and Unite the Union are committed to working together to ensure that we jointly develop the organisation’s culture, where all management and staff treat each other professionally, with respect, dignity and consideration, in line with SQA values.

READ MORE: Poor pupils improve exam results, but gap with the richest widens

"Unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated and will be dealt with under the appropriate procedures.

"Staff and trade unions must feel comfortable to raise their concerns with their management teams, human resources and senior management and know that they will be listened to and their concerns will be given due consideration."

In her apology to staff Ms Brown said: "I am truly sorry for the upset and uncertainty that some staff have experienced over the last few months as a result of protracted and complex restructuring.

"With hindsight, I accept this could and should have been implemented more effectively. I am saddened by this, as it has not been typical of the SQA I have been proud to lead over the last twelve years.

HeraldScotland: Dr Janet BrownDr Janet Brown

"I also regret that this has resulted in the deterioration of the relationship and trust between Unite and its members and SQA management."

Ms Brown said she was pleased both parties had acknowledged the need to work together to develop a strong relationship built on mutual trust, communication and partnership.

Alison Maclean, regional officer for Unite, welcomed the joint statement in a message to members.

She said: "We are confident the agreement reached is the best that can be achieved through negotiation and our aim has always been to resolve the dispute.

"We believe significant progress has finally been achieved as a result of direct, committed engagement with the executive management team.

READ MORE: Workers at Scottish Qualifications Authority back strikes

"We will continue to monitor progress and will have no hesitation in proceeding with industrial action on future dates if the commitments are not upheld."

The dispute centres on an internal restructuring process that left a number of workers without specific job roles.

Unite members raised a collective dispute with the SQA over the organisation’s ability to restructure in a “fair and competent manner”.

The current strike threat centred on concerns staff who opted for voluntary redundancy during the restructuring process, but who now want to be considered for new roles with the SQA, were not being allowed to stay.