In 2002, the Scottish Executive Education Department launched a national debate on schools for the 21st century. The debate elicited over 1500 responses and it is estimated that 20,000 people took part. This paper describes the main themes arising from the debate, highlighting the support for comprehensive education and the high level of trust in the quality and professionalism of teachers. The agenda for change was in terms of greater flexibility and choice in the school curriculum and of the need for well‐built and well‐resourced schools. The paper discusses this approach to policy formulation in the context of voter disengagement from politics and suggests that the Scottish Executive should attempt to sustain civic participation in education policy‐making as a way of developing a new politics in Scotland.