SNP ministers have delayed the publication of a major independent report into the state of Scottish education until after the Holyrood election, citing the coronavirus crisis.

Education Secretary John Swinney said he did not want the OECD review of the Curriculum for Excellence to place “any additional demands on the system at this time”.

HeraldScotland: Camley's Cartoon: Education review postponed. Camley's Cartoon: Education review postponed.

The Tories called the hold-up "completely unneccessary", while the LibDems called for any interim findings to be published before voters go to the polls.

Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants to be judged primarily on her record on education.

The review, which MSPs expanded amid signs of declining school performances, had been due to due to report in February 2021, on the eve of the election.

However it is now due to arrive a month after it in June next year.

After a poltical outcry, the First Minister said she would keep the publication date under review, and publish it earlier "if that proves to be possible".

The review was originally intended to cover only the senior phase of the 10-year-old Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

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However in January MSPs voted to extend it to the early years part of the system as well, a move opposed by the Scottish Government.

Ms Sturgeon then conceded the review would cover the entirety of CfE, and in effect the whole model of Scottish education.

The review will cover curriculum design, local flexibility, depth and breadth of learning, the transition from the junior to senior phase, and decision making roles.

OECD experts are due to undertake a “desk-based study” of policy documents and studies.

They were also due to visit Scotland to meet “relevant stakeholders and hold a seminar.

However remote video conferencing has become commonplace during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Despite the Scottish Parliament meeting today in plenary for the only time this week, the delay was revealed in a government-inspired written question, not a statement from Mr Swinney.

In his answer, Mr Swinney said: “The Covid-19 pandemic presents unprecedented challenges for our education system. 

“Our overriding priorities are ensuring the health and wellbeing of children, young people and staff and maintaining a continuity of learning wherever possible whilst schools are closed, as well as planning and preparing for a recovery phase.

“We remain committed to the Review of Curriculum for Excellence and are progressing this by providing the OECD with a comprehensive written evidence pack which we are co-developing with partners.

“However, it is critical that we do not make any additional demands on the system at this time. 

“Therefore, following discussions with national partners and the OECD, we have agreed to postpone engagement with policy stakeholders until September and engagement with practitioners and learners until October 2020. 

“This approach would see publication of the final report in June 2021.

“This is the current position but our approach will be kept under review, responding appropriately to changing developments.”

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MSP Jamie Greene, the Scottish Conservative education spokesman, said: "Whilst we accept that the Covid crisis has made assessment visits and stakeholder events more difficult, such a lengthy delay is completely unnecessary.  

“The Scottish Conservatives pushed for this comprehensive review into the curriculum because of declining highers results and narrowing subject choice. 

“Scottish education used to be the envy of the world but under the SNP we have been slipping down the league tables – the SNP government should be pulling out all the stops to find out why. 

“Delaying this report until days after next year’s Holyrood election seems far more to do with political expediency than Covid-19.  

“Tackling Covid-19 is everyone’s top priority, but there is simply no need for such a lengthy delay to this report - it must be published before May 2021.”

The Scottish Liberal Democrats called for the OECD’s  interim findings to be published before the 2021 election. 

MSP Beatrice Wishart said: "The Scottish Government have been kicking issues in Scottish education into the long grass for sometime.

"While the coronavirus crisis means that there is undoubtedly a case to be made for a delay, we need to make sure that as much preliminary work is done as possible. It cannot be used an excuse to sidestep accountability. 

"There needs to be an interim report published before the next election in the interests of transparency and informing the debate.

"Scottish education and our young people cannot stand more years wasted."

Labour MSP Iain Gray said: "The delay to this critical curriculum review, kicking it beyond the next election is inevitable but disappointing.

“Our schools went into the current crisis facing some significant problems such as the narrowing curriculum, falling pass rates and the systematic use of multilevel teaching.

“It took years to get the SNP government to acknowledge these problems and accept the need for the review – that delay now means it has been caught up in the covid-19 crisis.

"Reopening schools is going to be challenging, but this review is looking at problems of structure and resource that will still need to be addressed in the longer term.”

At FMQs, Mr Greene asked Ms Sturgeon if would be feasible to publish the “much needed” findings before May 2021 rather than after.

She said: “Yes, if that proves to be possible and there’s a way of doing that, we would want, as a standing principle, for that to be the case.

“But I really hope members will understand that across a whole range of our responsibilities right now, the focus of the Scottish Government has to be on dealing with the immediate crisis here, and then with the various impacts and recovery from this.

“That unavoidably has an impact on other business. We will, as we go through this, try to minimise that impact as much as possible, and ensure that where things can happen earlier, then we will keep these things under review.”