Dr Gallacher was giving the first of a series of lectures to mark the founding of the university's Institute for the Study of Education and Society which brings together the former department of education and Centre for Educational Sociology. The lectures, supported by The TES Scotland, also commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Act that first involved the state in educational decisions.
Arguing that delay over Higher Still would sell young people short, Dr Gallacher said: "It is one of these priorities which we simply must find the time and energy to implement. Other less desirable objectives may have to go or be delayed."
People should be "less hidebound by past practice and attitudes." He instanced the failure of attempts to review the promotion structure in secondaries. "A review is urgently needed. It would be useful to undertake some comparative studies of institutional management in other countries."
He also challenged the belief in "burgeoning" choice of subjects in S3-S6. "Do we too often confuse the laudable objective of curriculum breadth with extensive choice?" Parents put on pressure to make subjects available and schools felt the need to offer choices similar to those in neighbouring schools, but the cost was high, Dr Gallacher said. "Strategic planning across schools would be beneficial."
The introduction of Higher Still would mean that "some years down the line" the value of external assessment in Standard grade had to be questioned because of increased staying-on rates. "Such a move would provide welcome relief in a potentially exhausting series of annual external assessments," Dr Gallacher said.