THE chief inspector in charge of audit and attainment took up Bishop Holloway's gauntlet and agreed that the challenge of universal inclusion was one of "only two real priorities in education". The other was raising achievement on a broad front, of which attainment was one element.
Bill Clark told a workshop session that the key to tackling "the spiral of disadvantage" lay with education, even more than with housing or health reforms.
Mr Clark challenged pessimists who claimed that the standards agenda could not be delivered while schools had to cope with more and more difficult pupils.
The evidence for his optimism, he said, was that some schools were making a difference, early intervention strategies were beinning to have an impact and attainment targets for 2001, which includes literacy and numeracy, were already being exceeded in many schools.
However, Ian Glen, head of schools and community education in Midlothian, warned that the current approach to target-setting was "anti-inclusive" because it was concerned with how successive groups of pupils performed, not the progress of individuals.
Mr Glen suggested that schools were facing "too many initiatives and not enough change".
James Aitchison, head of Boclair Academy, Bearsden, suggested that schools are having "to run faster and faster" to retain pupils' interest.
But John Burns, head of Granton primary in Edinburgh, said that many children saw schools as the only positive and stable things in their lives, as families and the communities around them disintegrated.