Neil Galbraith, director in the Western Isles for the past 20 years and chairman of the curriculum council, is to become the council's acting chief executive for a year after which he is expected to take early retirement. Brian Stewart, the current chief executive, leaves in May to head Moray Council.
Mr Galbraith's move comes amid a clear-out of the senior management at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway, following its merger with the town's Lews Castle School.
The director's frosty relationships with the Nicolson management and unions stretch back virtually to the beginning of his tenure. An HMI report in 1997 criticised the "climate of distrust and suspicion" which had grown up and the council pledged assistance for Mr Galbraith in polishing his "management style".
Mr Galbraith, aged 58, will remain meantime as chairman of the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, a position he has held since 1991. The council is to merge with the Scottish Council for Educational Technology and new members will then be appointed.
This marks only the fourth promotion of a senior member of the education directorate to become a chief executive - Sandy Watson in Tayside and Angus, Douglas Paterson in Grampian and Aberdeen, and David Montgomery in East Ayrshire. Two directors, Eleanor Currie in East Renfrewshire and John Travers in North Ayrshire, act as depute chief executives.
Murdo Macleod, currently depute director of education in the Western Isles, takes over as acting director.