Fred Forrester, deputy general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said: "I would rate him highly. He has not accepted the Blunkett agenda unquestioningly and he has come up with his own solutions. He did not deserve the bad press he got."
Jim Docherty, assistant secretary at the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said: " The unions found him approachable, which was different from a number of his predecessors."
But one director of education, who preferred anonymity, said Mr Wilson went for "the flavour of the month", and should not have meddled in rural school closures.
Elizabeth Maginnis, convener of the local authorities' education and cultural forum, said Mr Wilson would be remembered for three things: tuition fees - "which were none of his doing" - the school standards initiative and Gaelic education.
Shelagh Rae, president of the Association of Directors of Education, said Mr Wilson was always prepared to work with local government. "He understood that you achieve more by taking the major players with you."
His bad press was promoted by those who wanted him to take a hard line with teachers. He had backed reforms for Higher Still, implemented target-setting in secondaries and channelled extra money to education while allowing councils flexibility.
Derek McGinn, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said Mr Wilson had prised more money for secondaries.
Bob Kay, chairman of the Association of Scottish Colleges, said: "He gave his commitment to further education colleges in the strongest possible way with a much needed and welcome settlement for the next three years."