Keir Bloomer, director in Clackmannan, ADES vice-president and unflinching critic of centralist policy, uncharacteristically led the way. It was "the most comprehensive and visionary speech" he had heard from a minister on such an occasion, Mr Bloomer declared.
Mrs Liddell recently rejected invitations to address the Scottish Parent Teacher Council and the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, but directors were more privileged. They heard the minister expound on policy to match the recent spending commitment of Pounds 390 million, disbursed from the Scottish Office Excellence Fund.
Listing three challenges and three opportunities, Mrs Liddell stressed her commitment to Higher Still but focused on the early years of secondary school. "We have got to stop saying we are going to do something about S1-S2 and actually do it," she said.
For the start of session next year, Mrs Liddell called for children aged 5-14 to have a coherent curriculum following HMI guidelines; classes to be organised to allow for previous learning and individual needs across different subjects; and support from an identified teacher for monitoring progress towards targets.
Quality teaching should include "a substantial amount of direct interactive teaching", supported by appropriate homework.
Testing in 5-14 had to be reviewed to become more "reliable and consistent" (page one).
Mrs Liddell said the first opportunity was to develop a framework for continuing professional development; the second was to develop new community schools as the "next stage of comprehensive education"; and the third was to strengthen education for work.
Over the next three years the Scottish Office expects 3,600 teachers to take part in industry placements through the National Centre: Education for Work and Enterprise. Business people and entrepreneurs will be encouraged to visit schools to "enthuse young people about enterprise".