New appraisal rules putting teacher performance at the centre of the standards-raising agenda are expected to spark another debate on targets and pay.
Teacher appraisal became a legal requirement in 1991 but it is one that is met in only a quarter of secondary schools, according to the chief inspector's annual report.
Another quarter have no system at all. But new regulations will make it not only tougher but also more frequent from next September.
Schools minister Estelle Morris wants major consultations before finalising the regulations. She is hoping to create a more supportive system and to avoid her predecessors' mistakes.
Appraisals were introduced when hostility between teachers and the previous government was at its height. Now Ms Morris hopes to build on its strengths, remedy weaknesses and keep administration simple to avoid it becoming a bureaucratic burden.
However, it seems certain that appraisal will be every year instead of two at present, with more direct links to the school's management strategy.
It will also be linked to the development plans all local education authorities must have in place by April 1999. The emphasis will be on providing teachers with the professional support they need - including training.
But Mrs Morris plans to relate appraisal to pupils' performance. A "core requirement" will be that at least one of the objectives for teachers should be connected to pupil performance targets, which all schools will be required to draw up from September.
A Department for Education and Employment handbook will outline how schemes should work.
Headteachers will be appraised jointly by the local authority and the governing body, with pupilperformance and the achievement of school targets featuring in a way that is compatible with pay andperformance criteria. Heads must also ensure that teachers are appraised by their line managers.
The current scheme is thought to have failed for several reasons. Schools have felt overburdened with initiatives leaving them no time or energy for appraisals. Also, schools complain of insufficient resources to train appraisers and cover for them. That seems unlikely to change.
And suggestions that appraisals should influence pay have added to the reticence felt by schools and teacher associations. This could prove the biggest stumbling block.
Ms Morris is sticking to her Tory predecessors' line that pay and disciplinary matters cannot be totally separated from appraisal.
She told a recent conference: "While ministers have no proposals to introduce any explicit link between appraisal and pay and competence issues it would, of course, remain open to heads and LEAs to take account of appraisal information in relation to these matters." And she added that headteacher targets for appraisalpurposes should take account of performance criteria which were agreed in pay formulas "if only to avoid confusion".
But teachers have said they are not interested in an appraisal scheme being used for pay or disciplinary matters.
The National Union of Teachers says it would fail because teachers would not discuss their strengths and weaknesses if they believed it could lead to a loss of pay or promotion prospects - or even to disciplinary action.
Ministers face some tough talking if they want the unions to consider appraisal and pay as well as alterations to teachers' pay and conditions.