The SNP announced a new education policy this week, attempting to position the party as the teacher's friend while outflanking the Scottish Executive on its own ground.
Jack McConnell, the Education Minister, has already announced the reorganisation of the Inspectorate as an arm's-length executive agency. As revealed in The TES Scotland two weeks ago, the SNP wants teachers themselves to be the inspectors during four-year secondments, supported by a small core of professional managers at the centre.
The Executive is progressively cutting class sizes to 30 in the first three years of primary. The SNP has replied with progressive cuts to a maximum of 18 pupils in those years, beginning in areas of deprivation.
The Government has targeted cash on school buildings since 1997, pledging 100 new or renovated schools by 2003. The SNP promises to embark on a programme of refurbishment and repair costing pound;1.5 billion, funded through a Scottish Trust for Public Investment.
A new education forum has been set up to provide two-way flows of information between ministers and parents, teachers and education authorities. The SNP is to establish an education convention to act as a pre-legislative check on policy proposals, and there would be a moratorium on further classroom change until it began its work.
Mr McConnell says he wants to review the existing system of target-setting and the burden of assessment on schools following the exams fiasco. The SNP is caling for a "critical examination" of target-setting and assessment after the exams crisis.
The Nationalists' manifesto says teachers have suffered in the past from too much prescription from the centre, which has been another of Mr McConnell's recent themes. "Such over-direction has, in recent years, led to vast and undesirable increases in pressure on children, parents and teachers," the SNP states.
"We will take action to reverse the trend of ever-increasing amounts of externally imposed assessment and target-setting which often get in the way of learning."
Michael Russell, the SNP's education spokesman, said the party intended to appeal to "the firm Scottish foundation of valuing education for education's sake". Educational improvement would be generated by the professionalism of teachers based on a real partnership with government, parents, management and others, Mr Russell said.
The independence party would also encourage schools and teachers "to build an education system which renews national consciousness," Mr Russell added.
Other measures which the SNP plans in its attempts to outdo the Executive are more training for teachers in information technology, a presumption against rural school closures, a statutory duty on authorities to provide Gaelic-medium education where there is "reasonable demand", developing community schools and promoting inclusive education both for special needs and disruptive pupils.
Leader, page 16