Michael Bichard, drawing on his experience as permanent secretary to the Department for Education and Employment and as a parent of children in state schools, told secondary heads to stop whingeing and face up to their responsibilities.
Labour is encouraging more openness among its senior civil servants and Mr Bichard seized the opportunity to rebuke a meeting of the Secondary Heads Association for complaining about the "lie" of league tables and the profession's lack of autonomy after a decade of centralisation.
"I'd like to see the profession standing up for itself, not just whingeing about what somebody else has done," he said. "The Government has great responsibility but the profession too must show it accepts the need for change."
SHA president Bruce Douglas has chosen professionalism as the theme for his year in office, arguing the real crisis facing education is not standards but recruitment. Giving teachers more professional freedom - accepting they know best - would improve their status and attract more recruits, he said.
Heads were prepared to play their part in school improvement. But they should be left by local authorities to get on with the job - "Give us autonomy so we can give you what you want. You can't get it any other way," Mr Douglas told the permanent secretary.
But Mr Bichard took heads' opposition to league tables and local authority intervention as a sign they were still trying to evade accountability - and that did real damage to the profession's image.
"I don't find every school positively welcomes me as a parent," he said. "I don't find every school encouraging a regular dialogue with parents around the curriculum. I don't find every school prepared to indicate to me as a parent how my child does related to other children - I find too often in my experience a determination to keep that information from me as a parent."
Improving the profession's status lay in teachers' hands, nobody else's, he said.
"Now is the time not just to tolerate greater accountability or even dismiss it but to embrace it and then use it to celebrate the great deal of success that the data displays and demonstrate the profession's passion to tackle weakness."
League tables could be used to argue for greater autonomy, he said. The Government wanted local authorities to leave successful schools alone. "There is no intention to be dogmatic. Intervention will be in inverse proportion to success," he said.
Mr Douglas, like Mr Bichard a companion of the Institute of Management, now plans to stage debates with chief education officers around the country.
Bruce Douglas Profile, page 10