Union leaders spent hours in negotiation at the Department for Education and Employment on Wednesday evening. The aim was to agree a circular with guidelines for teachers on paperwork and after-school meetings.
At least one union, the NASUWT, said significant problems remained and any agreement would come too late to call off the action, due to start on Monday.
Both the NASUWT and the NUT have threatened action over red tape, complaining it is putting an ever-growing burden on members. They are working longer hours, but are unable to devote as much time and energy to pupils.
Both unions won 93 per cent support for action in ballots held earlier this month. David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, responded by reconvening the union side of the bureaucracy working party whose recommendations - made in January - have yet to be implemented.
The NASUWT has issued instructions to members, based on the recommendations. They include limiting documents written by teachers to 400 words and attending only one evening meeting a week.
Nigel de Gruchy, NASUWT general secretary, said that no matter how much progress was made it was too late to call off the action. Legally any action must be carried out within a month and the union is reluctant to call off the protest in case talks break down.
"We're making progress but there has been no dramatic breakthough," he said as The TES went to press. He added that he was "reasonably hopeful."
Mr Blunkett and his two schools ministers, Stephen Byers and Estelle Morris, were at the talks.
Mr Blunkett told NASUWT's annual conference it had taken "too long" to follow up the recommendations. Decisions needed to be made faster and many union requests were commonsense.
"We need to have targets to reduce the volume and complexity of materials sent out and the paper used. My own department needs to cut down the frequency and volume of material sent out," he said.
The NUT is also due to issue detailed guidance to members following its own ballot. Its action is due to start on April 30. It wants the Government to resolve the issue in time for the new school year.
School management, page 25