In his address to the conference Gordon Jeyes, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education, was at pains to stress that target-setting, self-evaluation, performance indicators and analysing attainment "have all led to progress".
His speech reiterated the theme of the day - enlisting the wider community to broaden the base of education. Mr Jeyes warned, however, that there is "no single solution" to forging a new direction for Scottish education. He hoped the debate would not have "the unfortunate consequence of reinforcing the notion that all schools or authorities have to do is copy those currently being effective".
The ADES chief also reminded his audience that the present system suits many parents and pupils extremely well. "Teaching staff may be innately conservative, but this is in part reflecting the requests of parents and the needs of many students."
He added: "It has been disappointing to read of the raft of back to the future schemes involving streaming, setting, avoiding composites or changing other structural arrangements. Structural changes will never be enough. Where has the focus been on learning and teaching? Where has the debate been about transmission of values?"
Whatever the changes, Mr Jeyes said, the Scottish Executive must place more trust in local authorities. He pointedly underlined their successes - early intervention, staff review, tracking individual pupils, devolved management and quality assurance - and contrasted these with "unwieldy, over-centralised national schemes".
Philip Rycroft, the new head of the Executive's schools group, said ministers' key concerns were to ensure stability and flexibility in the system.
Mr Rycroft noted the "paradox" of having a great debate at a time when major initiatives were under way - the teachers' settlement, overhauling assessment and reporting, implementing the national priorities, renewing the school estate, revitalising modern languages and reforming special needs education.