Scotland could "quickly move" from having one of the world's best- prepared teaching professions to one of the worst if it does not get Curriculum for Excellence right, former senior chief inspector Graham Donaldson has warned.
The dangers of misplaced priorities and poor continuing professional development were underlined by Professor Donaldson, who published a review of teacher education last year.
"I'm not terribly worried about what will happen in National 4 or 5 and the Highers - that will sort itself out," he said. "That may seem like the hard bit just now, but it's not - the hard bit of Curriculum for Excellence is this broad general education."
Scotland was "kidding" itself if it thought youngsters already had a broad general education: "We have an education system geared towards getting qualifications, but not geared towards a group of people who are well educated in the round."
Few people, if asked to explain CfE, talked about raising standards; many were "beguiled by processes", such as cooperative learning, and lost sight of the big picture.
"What we have to be very careful about is that we assess what we profess," Professor Donaldson told a CfE conference in Stirling; there was a danger of paying lip-service to a broad general education, but falling back into old, exam-driven habits that sent a message of, "That was the learning, but here's what matters."
Scotland needed "a profession that is not afraid of complexity" and accepted big changes were inevitable: "The frequent cry of, `Can we please stop this change and let us get on with what we're doing?' - that's not an option."
The responsibility for teachers to do their job well lay with teachers themselves, Professor Donaldson added, rather than waiting to be sent on courses that prescribe "a dose of this or a dose of that".
Professor Donaldson was scathing about much of what was made available as CPD: "Too much of what passes for in-service training is quite frankly insulting for teachers."
He told the ELT Consultants conference, Curriculum for Excellence plus: alignment or overload?, that the "prime job of leadership" was to maximise the quality of teachers.
There should be a "relentless focus on capacity building", but also strenuous efforts to get the right raw materials in the first place: "We need to be very picky about who becomes a teacher in Scotland," he said.
But Professor Donaldson stressed that open minds were not the sole preserve of new teachers, and that those deep into their careers would have crucial mentoring roles.
"The wealth of experience that rests with these experienced teachers is incredibly important," he said.
Perth and Kinross education director John Fyffe admitted that hardline restrictions on use of social networking sites and smartphones in schools were "absolutely nuts".
Kenny Pieper, a teacher representing online learning community Pedagoo, had questioned current approaches to ICT, and national schools intranet Glow in particular.
"It seems to me we are throwing money at this problem, which in many ways is unsaveable," he said, adding that money for Glow would be better spent on new hardware.
Local authorities have come in for criticism in a number of forums recently for resisting the growing clamour to throw schools open to the technology that pupils use in their own time.
But Mr Fyffe said "we've got to open up" to social networking.
"We will never be able to compete with these platforms in Scotland," he told delegates.
Original headline: CfE is make or break, Donaldson warns