A Scottish parliament should confine itself to setting a broad national strategy on education and leave councils, schools, colleges and universities to run their own affairs, Lindsay Paterson, professor of educational policy at Moray House Institute, told a seminar last week.
Professor Paterson, a contributor to a report by the independent John Wheatley Centre, warned would-be legislators they should continue to draw on the wide experience in the Scottish Office, educational quangos and around the country.
Arguing for new models of partnership and accountability, he said: "A Scottish parliament should be concerned with devolving power to schools, groups of institutions and to authorities to let them decide what is best. If certain things are done differently in one area of the country to another, that is something we will have to live with."
The report by the centre's education and training commission raises key questions for a parliament without entering into specific answers. But Professor Paterson argued strongly for a review of the boundaries between sectors. More use should be made of specialist teachers in primary schools and secondaries should try to reduce "the sheer number" of different teachers pupils face in their first two years.
He also backed an end to the formal distinction between further and higher education in favour of a continuum of advanced courses. The new Advanced Higher would overlap with National Certificates and the trend towards franchising and mergers was already breaking down barriers. The pattern to be set by the University of the Highlands and Islands, which will focus continuing education in FE colleges, would ensure the trend was reinforced.
Tom Schuller, director of the Centre for Continuing Education at Edinburgh University, who chaired the commission, said the report was "an agenda for discussion and debate". In an innovative move, he called for alternative routes for post-16 learning, possibly through a restructured youth service.
Formal education institutions were not necessarily the best foundation for lifelong learning, Professor Schuller suggested.
Key Questions for a Scottish Parliament, price Pounds 10, is available from the John Wheatley Centre, 20 Forth Street, Edinburgh EH1 3LH (0131 477 8219).