THOSE who feel threatened are the keenest to read messages coming from the potential threateners. So the Catholic headteachers pored over the differences between the tone set by Jack McConnell and that of his more sceptical predecessor as Education Minister, Sam Galbraith. They pronounced Mr McConnell sympathetic whereas Mr Galbraith had refused them a Catholic variant of the emerging Scottish Qualification for Headship.
It is pleasant to be praised and Mr McConnell deployed all the evidence of high achievement in Catholic secondaries to win friends at the heads' conference in Crieff (page six). The Roman Catholic Church will always treat politicians warily, though some more than others. The lurking fear is of an attack on the protected position the Church's schools have enjoyed since 1918. Any sgn of surrender to those who claim the arrangements have outlived their usefulness or that separate schools encourage sectarianism is pounced upon, even if a politician or commentator is caught merely musing.
In truth, no Scottish administration in the foreseeable future is going to alter the 1918 settlement. Gains in terms of political rectitude would be hopelessly outweighed by the opposition stirred up. With Labour in power, the chance of a "modernising" initiative is particularly unlikely. But Mr McConnell is able to strike more than a politically safe point for a Catholic audience because not only are denominational schools successful but there is a widespread feeling that all schools need a caring yet firm ethos if they are to produce the results that government likes to measure.