'It's deckchairs on the Titanic'
Even the eagerly awaited review of primary and early years of secondary would fail to deliver the kind of education system society will need over future decades, they say.
Michael O'Neill, North Lanarkshire's director, forecast that the forthcoming review of breadth and balance in the curriculum would not go far enough for many authorities and teachers looking to move away from a tightly prescribed diet, all but nationally regulated.
"It's deckchairs on the Titanic again. We need a much smaller core curriculum that is national but much more flexible. You have got to ask yourself is it about flexibility at a local level or is it about conforming to guidelines and doing as you are told?" Mr O'Neill asked primary heads.
Authorities were about much more than delivering a national curriculum. They had to focus on maximising the potential of individuals and that meant working in innovative ways. Some young people could do more of something because they were good at it and liked it. That would challenge breadth and balance.
Keir Bloomer, president of the Association of Directors of Education, went further. "Breadth and balance are unimportant aspects of curriculum design, they do not really matter. I am not against breadth but it must be balanced by depth."
Mr Bloomer added: I do not think that a breadth that consists of literacy, numeracy, environmental studies, expressive arts etc is what I would describe as breadth." Children ought to have avariety of entitlements, from opportunities to take part in dramatic performances, sport, visits and service to the community.
"If we are talking about breadth, these things as just as important as the curricular dimension," Mr Bloomer said.
Society placed extra value on social and personal skills and flexibility in a fast-changing world. Mr O'Neill backed the call for a wider view of what matters in the curriculum.
Bart McGettrick, dean of the education faculty at Glasgow University, echoed the calls for a move away from an academic, subject-based focus. Coverage in the curriculum was the enemy of thought, Professor McGettrick said. "The purposes of education are not essentially concerned with efficiencies, positions in league tables and measured outcomes. That is not what education is about.
"It is a complete misrepresentation of Scottish education to believe that it is only about getting certificates and there is a danger at the present time that this is the only thing that matters."
Professor McGettrick backed the wider aspects of learning and schools the directors were calling for but said that these were often overlooked. "Balance is about how you repeat stuff, it is about content and knowledge. But I would be much more interested in a discussion about learning how to be, and learning how to learn."
Mr Bloomer said that he was heartened by the willingness in Scotland to question the principles of the curriculum, in contrast to the situation south of the border where efforts had been made to "seek a better yesterday and do things we have always done and ceased to do more thoroughly than in the past".