In Edinburgh, the controlling Labour group is now almost certain to rule out continued participation in the Higher Still development programme. The Educational Institute of Scotland, meanwhile, has decided to step up its offensive against the 5-14 programme.
Relationships between the authorities and the Secretary of State plunged to a new low after a bad-tempered meeting between the two sides last week. Council leaders pleaded in vain for an improved settlement.
But Michael Forsyth refused to increase the Scottish Office's contribution beyond the extra 2.9 per cent, or Pounds 148 million, already announced. Mr Forsyth continued to argue that council spending in Scotland is 30 per cent higher per head than in England.
Edinburgh Council's decision to pull out of the post-16 reform programme follows a plea from the joint headteachers' executive representing nursery, special, primary and secondary heads in the city. The executive wrote to education leaders on December 22 urging that "extra demands should not be placed on schools while budgets are diminishing".
This would, "unfortunately", mean no further expansion of nursery education and a formal postponement of Higher Still.
Elizabeth Maginnis, who will chair the education committee of the incoming council, said the comments were an indication that "the very considerable budgetary cuts which local authorities are being asked to bear are now forcing our most senior staff - and headteachers are not naturally rebellious - to acknowledge that they will not be able to carry forward these new initiatives".
Any chance of an orderly national implementation of Higher Still was now at risk, Mrs Maginnis added.
The Scottish Office announced this week, however, that it had found another Pounds 1 million for the Higher Still development programme, bringing the total to date to Pounds 5 million, with Pounds 4.6 million earmarked for 1996-97.
Colin Finlayson, head of James Gillespie's High in Edinburgh and co-chair of the headteachers' executive, said it was unreasonable to plan for change that could not be delivered. Gillespie's is facing the removal of up to Pounds 117,000 from its budget if reductions are imposed at the maximum 5 per cent savings which all Edinburgh schools have been asked to identify.
This is equivalent to six teaching posts and comes on top of a Pounds 50,000 cut last year. Mr Finlayson said minority subjects could no longer be protected.
EIS members, meanwhile, will be advised by their national executive that they need not follow the five A to E levels of the 5-14 programme when assessing pupils. A paper by George MacBride, the union's education convener, who is a member of the 5-14 implementation committee, denounces the grading system as "an artificial construct".
Fred Forrester, the EIS's depute general secretary, said the Government's target of completing the reforms by 1999 now had "little or no standing" and most education authorities had already agreed their own time-scales with the unions.