Peter Peacock was responding to concerns that local authorities may not have enough money to implement the Executive's ambitious reform programme. "We are getting worried," George Hayton, a Perth and Kinross councillor, told Mr Peacock at a conference in Edinburgh on Tuesday.
In a robust response, Mr Peacock said that more money was going into the education system than ever before. "When I was a council leader (in Highland) six years ago, I had just pound;2.5 million to spend on all the council's schools," he said. "Now that council has pound;100 million available to spend over five years."
He signalled that the survey on funding imbalances carried out by the Headteachers' Association of Scotland had made an impact (TESS, March 4).
This revealed disparities in the money reaching schools, by as much as half a million pounds in some cases.
Mr Peacock acknowledged the heads' claim that spending was uneven across the country, at a time when all were expected to deliver on the same policies. "The money leaves us in an equitable fashion according to the formulae that are in place," he commented.
"So over the next few months, while I am happy to face hard questions from local authorities, they in turn must expect some hard questions from me about how they ensure that money reaches the schools."
Addressing the same conference, Lindsay Roy, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, declared: "To achieve real progress, as much investment as possible should reach school level, as that is where the real qualitative improvements take place."
There must be clear criteria for resourcing and supporting schools, Mr Roy said. He called for closer collaboration between local officials and school managers over what should be allocated.
The Executive is committed to having 90 per cent of budgets under devolved school management, instead of the national average of 80 per cent. But, Mr Roy asked, "90 per cent or 95 per cent of what? Any model should be open and transparent, with clarity in terms of role, responsibility and accountability."
The secondary heads' leader also entered a plea for schools to be allowed time to make the Executive's reforms work. He acknowledged that ministers were placing "unprecedented trust" in school leaders and an empowered staff.
But, tilting at some directorates, Mr Roy continued: "That level of trust must be matched in all local authorities to enable us to move forward together.
"School leaders must not be overwhelmed by the agenda and people must not lose trust in us because we have not achieved everything by tomorrow. The reforms constitute a journey which must take place in a planned way over a period of time.
"School leaders need the resources, time and authority to manage change, developing a new culture where staff are empowered and encouraged to take on leadership roles."
Calling for a more rounded view of leadership, Mr Roy said: "Personal goal-setting and exercising responsibility are just as important to school staff as to our pupils - as are the encouragement of enterprise and creative skills."
Mr Peacock told the conference that his reform programme constituted "an interconnected agenda which is not directed from the top, although of course we will set out a framework and our expectations.
"It's about removing barriers from teachers so they can be empowered to improve their professional performance."