The blame for Scotland's "depressing" international performance in mathematics and science in the early years of secondary school has been pinned on the Government's "excessive central prescription" of the curriculum.
Keir Bloomer, director of education in Clackmannan, will tell councillors next week that inspirational and innovative work targeted at individuals' needs is being stifled. "Central prescription failed to make tractors in the Soviet Union so I fail to see how it will be successful in Scottish education, " Mr Bloomer told The TES Scotland.
He said that the relatively poor performance of pupils was "not a failure in classroom practice. It is a failure of management and strategic decision-making."
Reviewing recent Scottish Office reports on international comparisons of performance and improving achievement, Mr Bloomer concludes: "The experience of the past 20 or 30 years should suggest that excessive central prescription is the cause of many current difficulties rather than a potential solution to them."
He adds: "On the one hand the HMI are saying standards of teaching are generally good but on the other standards of performance are not all that great. How do we put this together?" Mr Bloomer, a critic of the complex frameworks for assessment and reporting set by the 5-14 programme and Standard grade, will tell councillors: "These aspects of development have not only tended to divert time and effort away from 'direct teaching' but may also have seriously diminished the professional independence and self-esteem of the individual teacher. It is least arguable that approaches based on developing individual teachers' professional skills, releasing creativity, encouraging diversity and learning from varied experience would have proved much more productive."
Results to date from the 5-14 programme appear to show that Scots are not keeping pace with peers in other advanced nations, the director points out. However, he accepts criticism by HMI of mixed-ability teaching in the first two years of secondary school and the lack of specialist subject teaching in upper primary.
Mr Bloomer, a depute director in Strathclyde before reorganisation, advises councillors that Scottish schools have a number of advantages - more teaching time, more computers and relatively high pupil estimation of the importance of key subjects - although these factors are not reflected in performance levels.