GOVERNMENT policies on social inclusion and placing requests are at odds with each other, the conference heard from Judith Gillespie. But any erosion of parental choice was strongly resisted by a panel of politicians.
Mrs Gillespie criticised the emphasis on parents "choosing and selecting schools according to their own individual advantage" and effectively "using the placing request legislation to run away from social inclusion".
The legislation also caused a breaking of links between primary and secondary schools which made curricular continuity impossible, most obviously in modern languages.
Mrs Gillespie was supported by the Rev Gordon McCracken, Church of Scotland representative on West Lothian's education committee and a member of a primary school board. Politicians should "bite the bulet, get rid of placing requests and have real social inclusion", Mr McCracken said.
The politicians did not feel so inclined. A change in parental attitudes would require a cultural shift, Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP said. She was in favour of reviewing the legislation to ensure that children were at least able to get into their local school. But Ms Sturgeon said she would abolish league tables before getting rid of parental choice.
Ian Whyte, the Tories' education spokesman on Edinburgh City Council, said the real problem was lack of diversity in schooling and some schools ought to close if they were "withering on the vine" without parental support.
Danny McCafferty, representing Labour, said real choice would not exist until all schools were funded to offer high-quality education.