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Missing the point;Opinion

THERE WAS more in the promise than the reality. If the Government's White Paper (or "consultation document", as it turns out to be) had really been a party manifesto for May, it would surely have been more interesting. Heaven help the Labour candidates who campaign on Targeting Excellence: they will find nothing with which to excite an audience.

At least the civil servants will be happy. They have worked on a paper that faithfully rehearses activity since May 1997, marks out initiatives under way and promises consultation on virtually everything that is suggested on the road to that worthiest of universally acceptable objectives - excellence. If official opinion is that nothing should pre-empt decision-making by bushy-tailed MSPs, then Targeting Excellence will ruffle few hairs.

While the Government promises yet more talking before the General Teaching Council is reformed, and issues the same unfocused threat to the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee that led to nothing under the Conservatives, the real action this week has been elsewhere. Teachers may like to read the Secretary of State's paper as a revision guide to what has been chronicled in The TES Scotland over the past 18 months, but the future direction of their careers was being thrashed out (or perhaps only thrashed about) in the talks between the employers and unions.

No one can yet determine where the balance will be struck between better pay and a worse way of life. The employers would like to buy out what they regard as over-restrictive conditions. They want to pinpoint extra hours of work, while knowing that most teachers are already Stakhanovites. But there is no guarantee of money and no agreement in the offing. That contrasts with statistics of investment, for example, in information technology which pepper Targeting Excellence.

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