The Government has signed up to the enterprise culture in schools in an unexpectedly emphatic determination to move education for work to centre-stage of the curriculum.
The commitment to a former Tory policy represents a breakthrough for Douglas Osler, the senior chief inspector. Mr Osler has been assiduously promoting the notion for more than a year that education for work should be the chief end of education, to give schools "a sense of purpose".
Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, backed his senior chief at a seminar in South Queensferry last Friday which Mr Osler described as "a particularly significant occasion for Scottish education". The move comes in the week when the CBI conference in England gave notice that employer criticisms of schools show no signs of abating.
Mr Wilson used the seminar, organised by the Inspectorate and the directors of education, to announce a wide-ranging series of measures to embed the work ethic even more firmly in the curriculum than the previous government. He described the proposals as "a far-reaching and constructive agenda".
Mr Osler stressed that education for work was not "a mechanistic, skills-restricted view of education . . . It means enabling you to 'get a life' as well as make a living."
The Government believes a work-related curriculum has a particularly important role in supporting early intervention and preventing "disaffected" pupils being turned off education. Mr Wilson said: "Enterprise education activities have the capacity to help improve attendance at school and raise achievement." They should be "at the heart of the curriculum".
Glasgow, facing the greatest challenge from disaffected pupils, decided in July to develop a more relevant curriculum for secondary pupils from third year on, in co-operation with colleges and universities. Malcolm Green, the city's education convener, is a particular enthusiast but has been stymied by Labour opposition in the past to any move that might be seen as diluting the comprehensive principle and re-creating junior secondaries.
John Mulgrew, director of education in East Ayrshire, told the seminar that education and industry had drawn closer but links were still "a one-way street". Business should be involved with schools in tackling the major issues such as underachievement rather than in "a series of mini-projects".
Mr Mulgrew, who has been investigating the issue for the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, was particularly critical of the effectiveness of education-business partnerships. His view was backed by John Travers, the association's president, who was dismissive of "well-publicised but peripheral developments".
Mr Travers supported the minister's moves. But referring to the CBI's discussion on improving the management of schools, he said caustically: "I do hope that headteachers in England will also be debating how to improve the competitiveness of British industry."
Dialogue should no longer be conducted in terms of "industry telling the public sector how to be more like the private sector".
The Scottish Office initiatives
* National consultative group on education for work.
* New performance indicators to enable schools to judge the effectiveness of industry links.
* Special HMI study next year followed by a national report.
* New work experience guidelines, preceded by consultation.
* Research on alternative approaches to the curriculum.
* Awards for employers and schools that invest in education for work.