Ruth Davidson has called for Nicola Sturgeon to sack her Education Secretary after the “biggest exam fiasco in the history of devolution”.
The reappointed leader of the Scottish Tories at Holyrood said John Swinney has been the “common denominator” in a range of issues throughout Scottish education.
She urged the First Minister to show “loyalty” to pupils and parents, rather than her deputy.
Ms Sturgeon defended Mr Swinney, who is facing a vote of no-confidence motion on Thursday.
She said the Scottish Government has taken responsibility for the controversial system to replace exams and Mr Swinney is working to “put it right”.
At the first FMQs since Mr Swinney’s U-turn to reinstate the 124,564 results downgraded by the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) moderation process and her first back at the helm of the Scottish Tories in Holyrood, Ms Davidson said pupils “deserve new leadership” in education.
“Next week marks five years since Nicola Sturgeon announced that education would be her number one priority,” she said.
“In those five years, she’s pulled Scotland out of international tests, her flagship education Bill was scrapped, Named Person was struck down by the courts, poor students have been punished by a persistent attainment gap, hundreds of teacher vacancies are left unfilled and we’ve just seen the biggest exam fiasco in the history of devolution.
“John Swinney has been the common denominator through all of this.
“The First Minister’s loyalty to a colleague may be commendable but her real loyalty should be to the parents and the pupils of Scotland.
“They deserve new leadership in education and John Swinney cannot deliver it. Why won’t the First Minister see that?”
Ms Sturgeon responded “I’m not sure loyalty to colleagues is a strong suit for Ruth Davidson”, referencing allegations she was involved in a plot to oust former Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw.
The First Minister added Mr Swinney has already spoken to Scottish universities to discuss making additional places available and the SQA released its methodology last Tuesday.
Ms Davidson also called for the release of all documents and details of the Scottish Government’s communication with the exam board.
She quoted comments from Ms Sturgeon in 2000 – when she was in opposition – in which she demanded transparency from the Scottish Labour government.
The First Minister told MSPs the Scottish Government “will make whatever Parliament wants available”, adding: “In a few months I will submit myself and my government to the verdict of the Scottish people in an election. That is the ultimate accountability for our record and our leadership.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard asked if Mr Swinney is being let “off the hook rather than out of office”.
Ms Sturgeon responded: “Richard Leonard is giving the impression that he’s more interested in the politics of this than actually having the issue fixed.
“We are living in unprecedented and unique circumstances. We were faced with something that hasn’t happened in Scotland in more than 100 years, the cancellation of our exam diet.
“There was no easy option open to ministers.”
She added: “We have the humility frankly to say we got it wrong and to apologise to young people and to put it right.
“And I think, particularly in this time of crisis, that is what people want to see happen.”