Scotland's chief schools inspector and the boss of its exams body have hit back at MSPs after a Holyrood vote which backed sweeping education reforms and saw the organisations they lead criticised as "not fit for purpose".

Opposition politicians last month teamed up to support Liberal Democrat proposals which would see schools watchdog Education Scotland (ES) broken up and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) overhauled.

The agencies were also accused of letting down staff, pupils and parents during the Covid pandemic.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said at the time: "We need the organisations in charge of Scottish education to get out of the way of teachers, and in must come an education system overseen by people with current and direct teaching experience.

READ MORE: Defeat for John Swinney

“In this crisis teachers have been creative, dedicated, full of good ideas. They know what their pupils need. We can’t say that of Education Scotland and the SQA.”

The success of a Liberal Democrat motion calling for changes also marked a heavy defeat for Education Secretary John Swinney, who branded MSP attacks as "gratuitous and unfounded".

On Wednesday, HM Chief Inspector Gayle Gorman and SQA chief executive Fiona Robertson firmly rejected the criticisms.

HeraldScotland: HM Chief Inspector and Education Scotland Chief Executive Gayle Gorman.HM Chief Inspector and Education Scotland Chief Executive Gayle Gorman.

Speaking during a meeting of Holyrood's Education and Skills Committee, Ms Gorman said: "We did, of course, follow the debate with interest and, actually, with disappointment, because Education Scotland has... restructured, been redesigned, has a new delivery model, a new approach and a new corporate plan for [the] recovery phase. And, actually, the work of the Education Scotland team has been to support and deliver improvements across Scottish education during these challenging times.

"We have provided a national platform which has over half a million users currently, which we've adapted, updated, introduced new technology, and led approaches to remote learning across Scotland."

Ms Gorman, who is also ES chief executive, added: "Our subject support has continued over every single subject, support for remote learning, wakelets, subject webinars, subject guidance, and our direct support to individual schools, local authorities and regional improvement collaboratives, working alongside, supporting, adding capacity, supporting strategic leadership, and developing contact with schools across Scotland, has absolutely been fed back as making a significant difference."

READ MORE: Move to break up schools watchdog

Echoing Ms Gorman's response, Ms Robertson said she and her colleagues were "very aware" of the political debate around ES and the SQA, adding: "I would just like to highlight that I'm very proud to lead a dedicated team of public servants, many of whom are teachers and lecturers themselves, to deliver on what has been a very challenging brief over the last year with the cancellation of exams just weeks away from exams being held in 2020, and as we've worked very much with the system in 2021 to deliver an alternative certification model across national qualifications."

She went on: "We continue to work with teachers in developing the approach and we get really positive feedback about the work that we are doing. 

"We've had to review almost everything that we do in very short order and with a huge amount of scrutiny, perfectly acceptable scrutiny, but we've had to be very fleet of foot to ensure that we can continue to deliver.

"That has been challenging but I think I share that sense of disappointment about some of the commentary on the work that's been undertaken."

HeraldScotland: SQA Chief Executive Fiona Robertson.SQA Chief Executive Fiona Robertson.

Separately, Ms Robertson confirmed that a public consultation would soon begin which will look at the possibility of allowing direct appeals from young people under this year's alternative assessment process.

Responding to Scottish Labour's Iain Gray, she said: "We intend to issue a public consultation in relation to our appeals service and we will be pursuing many of the issues that you've highlighted in your question... including young people being able to appeal directly and the grounds for any appeal which may apply."