The lack of teachers' jobs is the most serious issue on his hands and causes him "heartache", the Education Secretary confessed to teachers at the Scottish Learning Festival this week.
Local authorities should be replacing teachers when they retire, rather than cutting numbers to ease budgetary pressures, said Michael Russell, under questioning from his audience.
But he promised to give schools stability now that they had "gone the extra mile" and proved the critics wrong by making Curriculum for Excellence a success.
"For the rest of this term of office - and for a future term if re-elected - this Government will focus on building and completing the roll-out of CfE," Michael Russell told the Scottish Learning Festival.
His 10-point plan was delivering real support to schools and teachers in the implementation of CfE, while the new National Assessment Resource was now available online, he said.
But he wanted to take "a fresh look" at the schools intranet Glow to ensure it was delivering to its full potential ("Glow 'must improve'", TESS, September 17).
Labour's education spokesman, Des McNulty, accused Mr Russell of "absolute complacency" over CfE. The National Assessment Resource, to support its assessment, had arrived a month after teachers and pupils had returned to school and still gave no details of the exams pupils would be expected to study for, he said.
But Mr Russell said he was confident that the Scottish Qualifications Authority would deliver the new national qualifications as promised and that local authorities would be able to match that with their delivery on the ground.
He also lent his weight to devolving further power to headteachers, urging local authorities to work with heads to allow this to happen.
"I think headteachers and their teams are often best placed to know how to get through hard times - local authorities should rely on that rather than think they always know best," he said.
And hard times were indeed coming, he warned. If cuts to Scotland's overall budget did come, then Scotland had to adopt "a more imaginative and innovative approach than merely salami-slicing", he said.
His priority was to protect the core frontline services in education. Over and above that, he wanted to provide for early intervention for vulnerable children and, at the other end of the spectrum, a sustainable funding solution for further and higher education.
A green paper on university funding is due to be published by the Scottish Government later this year.