Heat shields and silver bullets
Another day, another report into the Welsh education system.
The purpose of this one was to examine its structure - in a nutshell are the 22 local education authorities still fit for purpose - or do we need to move to a regional or even national system?
The recommendation, since you ask, was for a move to four regional consortia, which would concentrate expertise and - hopefully - free up more money for the front line.
Like most recent reports into education in Wales, the authors found it impossible to resist casting a very critical eye on the current situation in schools. But unlike the reports to date, this one came very close to attacking some of the few sacred cows still standing in the sector.
At this morning's lobby briefing, the First Minister deflected questions relating to pupil under-attainment in recent years with the two magic words "Foundation Phase", the learn through play programme for all 3-7 year olds.
Ministers would shy away from the phrase "silver bullet" but it seems to be working very nicely as a heat shield against the criticism that standards have slipped.
Has this section of the report, then, knocked a small but significant hole in that shield?
"Overall, we conclude that outcomes in respect of literacy are problematic at virtually all stages of education from the Foundation Phase through to further education.
"We are hopeful that the learning methods which are the essence of the Foundation Phase will help raise standards of literacy and numeracy and their application in everyday life. It is important that children are taught well initially and then those with difficulties are identified early on can be supported subsequently.
"This can be done if diagnostic testing is introduced for literacy and numeracy towards the end of the Foundation Phase. We stress that diagnostic analysis is required to help assess that a child's development is on course and that appropriate teaching methods are in use.
"A Foundation Phase without such analysis is not well founded."
And it goes on to say, "If we are not careful standards will regress rather than improve because of the introduction of the Foundation Phase."
The point that seems to be made is that while successive ministers and teaching unions have made a virtue of the lack of continual testing of Welsh pupils, in fact, that can serve to mask poor performance until it's too late.
And on an even more basic level, Wales may well be the "envy of other countries" due to the Foundation Phase, according to ministers, but without testing - how do we know that?
While it's seemed for a while that the days of 22 local education authorities are numbered, for all Leighton Andrews' rhetoric, there was a significant hit in today's report for successive education ministers, who, it says, have basically taken their eye off the ball.
"Logically, it appears that since the Minister takes action in placing a Recovery Board to ensure that standards are raised in the performance of a LA then it should be the Minister through the national education department that should hold LAs to account for their performance in a robust and systematic way.
"It is abundantly clear that this does not take place currently."
Today's statement in plenary on the report, like much of today's business, had a somewhat valedictory air about it. It will, of course, be the next Assembly Government, formed soon (hopefully fairly soon, say us veterans of the 2007 negotiations) after the elections on May 5th to confront many of these issues.
In the meantime, the small matter of those elections. All three other parties have signalled their intent to take on Labour over their record on education. Plaid Cymru seem to be casting aside any notion of collective responsibility for the past four years when it comes to this particular policy area and are looking to carve out their own distinctive space.
Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats are also going to put this front and centre of their campaigns. The recent PISA figures are an opposition politician's dream of course, internationally recognised, clear and unequivocal, and damning. That "downward spiral" headline from today's report will be heard a fair few times in the coming weeks too.
So how do Labour respond? That heat shield is going to need some serious reinforcing, but Mr Andrews, through a series of speeches soon after coming to office which cleverly pre-empted much of what was in today's report and its equally gloomy predecessors, has tried to draw a line under the past and look to the future.
If Labour are returned to power next month, either alone or in coalition, few in the Bay are prepared to bet against him returning to his current role. And that may be one of the best defences his party will muster in the coming weeks.