The reform of post-16 education, youth unemployment and the new curriculum will be key areas for the Scottish Government this year.
Education Secretary Michael Russell said he would focus on the "big issues" of early years and preventative spending, and investing in Curriculum for Excellence, particularly Scottish Studies and languages.
"2012 will be a good year. We have lots of chances in Scotland to succeed," he said.
Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the EIS union, challenged Mr Russell to say where he would find the resources to make these developments possible. Early years should be a priority, he agreed, but the Government was diminishing the role of education in that sector by making "generic workers" the "flavour of the month". His own priorities were resolving the pensions issue and the McCormac negotiations so that teaching remained an attractive career.
Mr Russell was urged by Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, to add a priority to his list - giving greater clarity to the new qualifications and senior phase of CfE.
On the wish list of John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, were legislation to give councils proper control of school closures and a review of devolved school management. He warned the Government not to expect local authorities to pick up the bits of college provision, such as basic literacy and numeracy courses, that were likely to be "dropped off the end of the FE agenda".