Inspectors have underlined their consummate ability to deliver a strategically placed knife in a highly critical follow-up report on Perth and Kinross.
Since the council's original inspection three years ago, school attainment is said to have stagnated or fallen, while "important weaknesses" remain in key aspects of leadership and management.
The report secured the ground for the removal before the summer break of George Waddell, executive director for education and children's services, who took early retirement. Tensions with the chief executive's department, run by Bernadette Malone, were said to be significant.
Len McConnell, depute director, who is commended by the inspectors, has since taken temporary charge and brought in Maggi Allan, former director in South Lanarkshire, as an adviser.
Mr Waddell takes the flak for failing to address some of the inspectors'
original criticism in what was generally a favourable report, published in May 2003.
He is taken to task for not being "sufficiently rigorous in directing priorities or monitoring progress" among the team of lead officers and not spelling out distinct roles for senior staff.
A pound;1.9 million overspend on the new Auchterarder Community School did not help his position.
Inspectors also highlight unsatisfactory progress in professional reviews of central and school staff and in continuous improvement.
They maintain that the department did not have an authority-wide strategy for improving the performance of the lowest performing 20 per cent of pupils and closing the gap with their peers. "Approaches to developing appropriate curricula for lower attaining pupils were at an early stage," the report states.
Most damningly, HMIE concludes: "Overall, there were few signs of attainment increasing."
Jimmy Doig, the council's leader, acknowledged the concerns but emphasised that attainment remains high and in many areas is above the national average. The authority had already begun to address the inspectors'
criticisms, Mr Doig said.
* At the announcement of his retiral in May, Mr Waddell was praised by the former education convener for shaking up the department. Margo Lennie, Labour, said that children's services were in a "bad way" before Mr Waddell took over.
"He took it by the horns and half the staff here owe their careers to him.
He made a significant contribution to children's services in Perthshire," she said.