The battle over class sizes
Is it a sensible policy to reduce class sizes in the earliest stages of primary schooling to 18 or fewer?
Did Alex Salmond promise to deliver such a policy in the first Parliament of his administration?
Do not attempt to answer both questions at once. Candidates have until the next Holyrood election to complete this paper. Marks will be given by the voters.
As expected, opposition leaders all pursued the First Minister today on the replacement of his Education Secretary.
Of the three, Labour's Iain Gray was the most effective. He had substantive research upon which to base his attack.
Mr Gray disclosed a leaked minute from 2 July 2007 of a meeting in which civil servants from the Scottish Executive (as it was then billed) discussed the implications of the class size policy for primary teacher recruitment.
Donald Henderson of the Schools Directorate is minuted as noting that the commitment would require more than 4000 extra student teachers.
He is further minuted as saying: "The scale of the commitment does not allow it to be delivered in the life time of a parliament."
According to Labour, this means that the First Minister was being advised by his officials that the policy was undeliverable in practice - by contrast with a Parliamentary answer given by the FM to Hugh Henry MSP on 5 September 2007 in which Mr Salmond confirmed that the class sizes promise would be delivered within a single Parliamentary session of four years.
Also according to Labour, that means the FM misled the chamber. Mr Henry now plans to pursue this alleged deceit.
The FM's answer? Progress is being made year on year on class sizes, not helped by obstruction from Labour councils. He said they make up one third of Scotland's local authorities - while they are responsible for two thirds of the drop in teacher numbers: the issue which despatched Fiona Hyslop from the education brief.
Further inquries of the government elicit the response that any advice given by officials was superseded by the concordat with local authorities in 14 November 2007 - which featured a pledge to take action on class sizes, with implications for teacher numbers.
At questions today, Annabel Goldie broadly took the same tack: that Ms Hyslop was a victim of an impossible pledge delivered by her boss.
Tavish Scott noted that the ministerial changes only followed the prospect of a no confidence motion, prepared by himself.
Will Alex Salmond be found to have misled Parliament? I very much doubt it. There is the defence re the concordat, there is the more general point that officials advise and Ministers decide.
Had there been a private quotation from Mr Salmond to the effect that the policy was futile, then different story.
However, these exchanges, deftly pursued by Mr Gray, add to the impression of difficulty with this portfolio: an impression given rather noted substance, of course, by the removal of the incumbent.
Already, one is hearing defensive postures from Ministers: class sizes are now at a record low, we only promised to make progress year on year, we are being blocked by Labour councils, the real focus should perhaps be on cutting class sizes in the most deprived areas.
There is justice in some or all of these arguments. Snag is the manifesto pledge was to cut class sizes to 18 or fewer in Primaries 1 to 3.
Is there a "crisis" in education, as Mr Salmond's opponents aver? No more than usual.
Certainly, difficulties with a class size policy covering the very earliest years do not amount to a crisis for education as a whole. For Ministers, however, not good.
Earlier, Opposition leader teased the new Education Secretary Mike Russell over his previous views on the topic. MSPs were voting on whether to endorse his appointment. (They did.) Murdo Fraser of the Tories made a notably witty speech.
Mr Russell was reminded that he had, in the past, suggested that councils were "arrogant" and that their collective organisation, Cosla, was inclined to offer "self-serving, mealy-mouthed advice".
The Minister grinned politely, well aware that these comments were delivered during his wilderness years outside Holyrood. (He had been shunted way down the regional list by his ungrateful party.)
In those days, he was thinking grand thoughts. He was publishing pamphlets. He was challenging for the party leadership. He was thinking six impossible things before breakfast - and, rashly, committing some of them to print.
Now that his penance is paid and he has achieved Cabinet rank, perhaps his noted diplomatic skills will take precedence over his propensity for blue-sky thinking. However, let us hope that he has not entirely lost his sense of iconoclasm.
Scotland could use a Minister who challenges "the way things have aye been".