Helen Penn, now professor in early childhood at the University of East London, had a number of run-ins with the teaching unions while head of pre-five services in Strathclyde Region.
Professor Penn said that Britain was still struggling to provide a quality and universality in pre-school education that has been achieved by some of the poorest countries in the world.
In the Bulgarian capital Sofia, where the average monthly wage is pound;20, 95 per cent of children aged three to six attend full-time state nurseries. Most are in spacious buildings and more than half have heated swimming pools.
Mongolia is in the bottom 10 per cent of the world's economies, but every settlement in the Gobi desert or in the mountains has a nursery service - "an extraordinary investment and commitment of public resources".
Professor Penn stressed that, while she believed nurseries should be publicly planned and funded to a high level, this was not the same as arguing that they all had to be publicly provided.
"Entrepreneurship is a valuable asset," she said. "The question is where and how it should fit in."