Teachers at an independent conference left disappointed following education secretary Jenny Gilruth's opening remarks, with many feeling that she had missed an opportunity to earn goodwill.

After an opening speech in which she discussed some of the challenges to Scottish education, including implementing reform, reducing the stress and workload on teachers and protecting jobs and opportunities for progression, Ms Gilruth responded to a set of questions that were submitted by attendees. 

The topics included reform in Scottish education and funding for education, but attendees at the Scottish Teachers for Enhancing Practice (STEP) conference said that they were hoping for more of a conversation and a chance to speak to some of the points that Ms Gilruth raised in her speech.

Many in the audience told The Herald that this felt like a missed opportunity. 

One teacher said: "Where was the engagement? I felt a physical sigh in the room in response to her speech. I just didn't feel there was any substance to it."

Another said that they felt they were attending a party event rather than a teaching conference. Part of their disappointment stemmed from the fact that they know and recognise Ms Gilruth as a former educator.

Read more: Gilruth 'gets it' but after nearly two decades that just isn't enough

During her speech, she spoke about specific challenges to reform – engaging effectively with teachers, not rushing change for change's sake – but teachers felt she stopped short of offering solutions.

She missed an "open goal" to win goodwill from the audience, one teacher said, by not admitting that some of the challenges facing Scottish education are the result of past decisions by the SNP government.

"That keynote was like an SNP party broadcast," one teacher said.

Read more: Jenny Gilruth questions teachers' appetite for Hayward reforms

Others were concerned by Ms Gilruth's suggestions that she plans to push back on some of the key recommendations of the recent Hayward Review of Scottish qualifications. 

"That review was the product of so much work by professionals, all with their own working groups," one teacher said.

She questioned why more consultations and surveys are now being conducted after the fact, when she felt that work had already been done.

But apart from the immediate reactions to her comments, teachers also said that they are left confused about what's next for education in Scotland.

What they said they want most are answers.

"We are fine if change doesn't happen overnight," one teacher said. "But what we want to see is a plan."

Another said: "We have had enough talk about what is wrong or what the government wants to change. Now we want to know how."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that Ms Gilruth's comments and responses at the conference illustrated the government's commitment to teachers.

“The importance of enabling teachers' professional learning and skills development will be central to the current work being undertaken on education reform, along with the Centre for Teacher Excellence and the commitment to reduce teachers' class contact time.

“There is a strong link between teachers’ professional skills and the quality of children and young people’s learning experiences.  

"That is why we are committed to providing support and professional learning opportunities for all teachers in Scotland to help ensure positive outcomes for our children and young people.”