Union leaders were today poised to reject an agreement on cutting red-tape for teachers and to dig in for long-term industrial action.
The executive of the second largest teachers' union, the NASUWT, was meeting to discuss a draft circular to schools drawn up during intensive negotiations last week between the five classroom unions and the Government.
They look certain to reject it as failing to go far enough towards their demands for a limit on documents and only one after-school meeting a week - the draft calls two meetings a week "sensible" if they have a clear purpose, agenda and time limits.
The National Union of Teachers was expected to accept the circular, leaving NASUWT to fight on alone. The National Association of Head Teachers is also happy with the deal, and says the NASUWT's demands go too far.
Members of NASUWT began industrial action on Monday, refusing to carry out a range of non-teaching duties. General secretary Nigel de Gruchy reported an enthusiastic response which bolstered the executive's determination to get a better deal.
He called the paper "woolly" and without legal force. Schools with little bureaucracy could end up with more, he said.
"I hope the Government will re-open talks," Mr de Gruchy said. "The gulf is certainly not unbridgeable."
The NUT's own action began yesterday but it is likely to be suspended to see if the new circular is effective. Negotiator John Bangs said proposals such as a limit of one pupil report per year, the wider use of model policies and the discouragement of pre-OFSTED inspections represented "a significant slashing back of bureaucracy."
A Department for Education and Employment spokeswoman said ministers believed all unions could sign up to the circular and there was now no need for action.
A meeting with local government is expected next week, and the DFEE hopes to issue the guidance within weeks.