Directors expressed continuing concern about the microscope the education system is under. "I don't think any group is under such scrutiny as heads and directors," Jim Anderson, director in Angus and outgoing ADES president, said. "Sometimes the inspectorate dismiss that too glibly."
Roy Jobson, director in Edinburgh and new ADES president, said:
"Accountability is very important but so are productivity and effectiveness and, the more time we spend on the former, the less is available for the latter."
Graham Short, depute director in East Ayrshire, said new measures such as antisocial behaviour orders, individualised education programmes and care plans had made the system even more complex. Mr MacLean agreed such policies had to be made simpler but not simplistic "because children's needs are complex".
The Education Minister made it clear, however, that the package of reforms unveiled last month would be marked by "tougher, intelligent accountabilities".
Peter Peacock confirmed that the second round of education authority inspections would focus on quality assurance mechanisms. But Mr Peacock was challenged by Michael O'Neill, director in North Lanarkshire, who called for inspections to be aligned with the national education priorities, checking on authorities where practice was weak and where it was strong.
Mr Peacock said he had an open mind, but the detail of how the new inspections would work was best left to HMI. He added, however, that he had been "shocked" by the differences between how some local authorities felt a school was performing and how HMI saw it. "We need to narrow these perceptions," he remarked.
Despite his reservations about the capacity of some councils to deliver reform, Mr Peacock said he had no intention of sweeping away local authorities' responsibility for education. But he planned to have discussions about sharing services, spreading good practice in leadership and other matters.
Education authorities had a clear role in establishing quality assurance, he said. "I can't do that from the centre and schools cannot do it either, because they need challenge and support."