Danny McCafferty, the education convenor of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and his colleagues on the employers' side appear to have gone some way to overcoming the difficulties which scuppered the previous final offer. There is more money on the table and the impact on working conditions has been attenuated. The bulk of the cash has been ploughed into the basic scales, where it is most urgently needed.
If the negative reaction is a negotiating ploy to screw more money out of the employers, that is to be expected. Unions are entitled to talk tough and to play hard in the best interests of their members. If they really think that Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, and the councils are about to rush back to the treasure chest to find an 8 per cent rise without strings, they could be disappointed. The cynical observer may even conclude that the rejection of the deal will suit Labour's agenda, since it provides the perfect excuse for dismissing the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee and using legislation to impose what cannot be achieved through negotiation.
The toughest words in Helen Liddell's White Paper, Targeting Excellence, published in February, were reserved for the section on teachers' pay and conditions. "We have no intention of allowing outdated central regulation to stand in the way," it warned. Mr Galbraith is an altogether less strident figure than Liddell, but he is a decision maker and a gutsy campaigner who will lose no sleep over squeezing a wee section on teachers' salaries into his forthcoming Education Bill.
The current pound;21,000 paid to unpromoted teachers at the top of the scale is a disgrace and an indictment of the values of our society. The increase offered brings the chalk-face grafter at the top of the scale up to pound;26,000 over three years. Others will have to be satisfied with less in percentage terms in order to achieve this.
To reject roast beef in the hope of caviar may lead to a very meagre menu being provided. Teachers deserve pound;26,000 now, but may have to settle for a staged award.
Perhaps the promotion structure is the main stumbling block. The current arrangements for advancement within the profession are antediluvian and a major obstacle to improvement in schools. No organisation could thrive with such a hierarchical and inflexible promotion ladder, preventing able staff from progressing and stifling their motivation. The view from the bottom rung must be dispiriting for the young recruit, who sees the upper positions occupied by people who are not going anywhere.
The three-tier system suggested by the employers' side would offer some flexibility and might lead to a scenario in which the posts available matched the challenges and problems faced, rather than the needs of the Seventies.
I was in danger of going warm and fluffy about our political masters over this issue, when I read of the huge increase in councils' annual contributions to COSLA. What on earth for? I wondered. The explanation given was that the increased fees were in line with inflation; but the last time I looked, inflation was less than 2 per cent.
If teachers are being asked to be realistic in their demands and more accountable for their activities, the same level of transparency will be expected from employers. It will be argued that COSLA's operating costs have risen steeply in recent years, but teachers will point out that they, too, have bills to pay.
Pat Sweeney is headteacher of Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh