Ministers have been accused of presiding over “insider dealing” after documents revealed that key groups tasked with managing education reform are dominated by agencies facing the axe.

The development is fuelling fears that a sweeping overhaul of the system will be nothing more than a “cosmetic” rebranding exercise.

Under existing plans, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and standards body Education Scotland (ES) are scheduled for replacement. An independent inspectorate is also set to be created.

The proposals were published earlier this year by Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville following the completion of a report by Professor Ken Muir. Prof Muir’s analysis was aimed at addressing concern about misalignment between the curriculum’s broad general education - which is delivered from the early learning and childcare stage until S3 - and the senior phase in S4-6.

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However, there have been doubts over the reform effort and its capacity to deliver meaningful change. Union sources previously told The Herald that the SQA and ES were “having to be dragged off the stage kicking and screaming”.

Now the Scottish Government is under fresh pressure over membership of delivery boards that are responsible for overseeing the revamp.

According to lists obtained by Scottish Labour’s Michael Marra, around half of the 15 positions on the qualifications board have been taken by SQA staff. Senior ES figures enjoy a similarly dominant presence on the board that will manage moves to establish a new education agency and inspectorate.

A third board concerned with policy and legislation has no fewer than eight government civil servants out of a total membership of twelve.

HeraldScotland: Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has insisted that reform boards will contain external and independent voices.Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has insisted that reform boards will contain external and independent voices.

Prof Walter Humes, who was on the expert panel that advised Prof Muir during the production of his report, said: “There is undoubtedly a case for having some representation from the outgoing agencies, to ensure a smooth transition to the new bodies, but this looks like ‘insider dealing’ on a grand scale.”

He added: “Clearly, the Cabinet Secretary for Education has been outmanoeuvred by her own officials and the traditional educational establishment.

“The same people who are widely perceived as being part of the problem are, unbelievably, being charged with finding solutions.”

Mr Marra, who unveiled the membership lists during a meeting of Holyrood’s Education, Children and Young People Committee, said: “Stuffing the delivery boards that are leading reform with the people who are leading the failed organisation is totally unacceptable.

“The Scottish Government must publish the remit and review the membership of these boards immediately, otherwise this will be nothing more than the cosmetic rebrand the management are clearly working to achieve.”

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Michael Baxter, SQA director of finance and corporate services, defended the qualifications board and its composition. He told MSPs: “There are a number of non-SQA members that sit on the delivery board representing the education sector across Scotland. We have a director of education, we have sought nomination from School Leaders Scotland, and we have a further external member who has experience of awarding and regulation outwith Scotland to provide independent and external challenge.”

Ms Somerville said: “Only seven out of 15 members of the delivery board for the new qualifications body are SQA managers. The board also includes external voices to ensure critical challenge at all times. Final decisions on structure, culture and design of the new body will be made by me.

“I am determined that our three new education bodies will be underpinned by new values and governance – delivering real and substantial change to improve outcomes and build trust in Scotland’s education system.

“This renewed system will reflect the culture and values we want to see embedded throughout. It will be a system that puts learners at the centre and provides excellent support for our teachers and practitioners.”