The Secretary of State, in his latest piece of cat-and-mouse electioneering, has announced that draft regulations for compulsory appraisal of teachers will be issued for consultation next week. A Parliamentary Order was laid on Wednesday.
Michael Forsyth made his move within hours of Labour unveiling the final version of its education blueprint (page two). Mr Forsyth's call for Labour to support the measure was dismissed as a "silly stunt" by Helen Liddell, the party's education spokeswoman.
The appraisal proposals were heralded in the White Paper on Raising the Standard and it was anticipated that they would not be introduced until next session. The measure could now become law after the statutory six-week period for consultations.
Mr Forsyth said he also wanted to link the results of appraisal with performance pay in the event of an independent pay review body replacing the existing machinery.
The Scottish Office's determination to act follows long-standing concern at what the Education Minister described last spring as "woefully slow progress" towards meeting the target of appraising all teachers at least once by the end of the current session.
Only a third of teachers have been through the process, a proportion that falls substantially if promoted staff are excluded. The figures encompass a huge range from 90 per cent appraised in Dumfries and Galloway to 10 per cent in Glasgow and Aberdeen.
Mr Forsyth said the voluntary system under which councils have agreed "staff development and career review" schemes with the teaching unions had clearly failed. But the Educational Institute of Scotland insisted: "The cash is simply not available and the councils themselves cannot give appraisal schemes the spending priority they would require." Ronnie Smith, the union's general secretary, accused Mr Forsyth of "a pathetic and demeaning attempt to use teachers as a punch-bag in a party political scoring exercise".
Mr Forsyth said appraisal would reveal that the vast majority of teachers were doing an outstanding job. Bad teachers were in a tiny minority. He welcomed Labour's emphasis on this issue but said classroom competence could not be identified without appraisal.
But a report last April by OFSTED, the schools inspectorate south of the border, revealed that appraisal had been found to improve teaching in only a fifth of the 300 schools studied.