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Hard-up NQTs who are all at sea in a pricey south coast resort are being thrown a training lifeline, reports Jill Parkin.

Who could fail to love blowsy old Brighton, the swinger of the south coast, who's been having a good time since the days of the Prince Regent?

Newly qualified teachers, that's who. The place is seductive, but expensive. A constant migration of well-heeled city workers to London-by-the-sea keeps house prices well beyond the reach of most NQTs.

So, with new teachers driven away to cheaper parts of Britain, Brighton and Hove local education authority has taken the initiative in the battle to recruit and, more importantly, retain newly qualified staff.

The authority is one of 12 piloting a government programme of early professional development (EPD) for teachers in their second and third years. It gives new teachers more money and offers them greater support in the crucial early stage of their careers.

The programme, set up on the advice of the General Teaching Council, is aimed at reducing the proportion of teachers who leave the profession within five years of qualifying - currently 40 per cent.

Although the results of the pound;25 million pilot is not due to be released until December, interim findings from one local authority suggest that just over half of new teachers would be more likely to stay in the job if they were offered EPD.

A quarter of the pilot cohort in the south London borough of Lewisham dropped out during their NQT year. But only a further 5 per cent of the remainder left after year two, the year in which they had their EPD. No comparative figure was available, but a spokesman said it was "an improvement" on previous years.

Annie McCabe, adviser for professional development for Brighton and Hove LEA, says: "We recruit very well but we have great difficulty with retention, mainly because of house prices. Many teachers who are with us for the first two or three years of their careers then move away to where they can afford to buy a home.

"We recognise that money is a huge problem for our teachers. They don't get the London weighting, even though living in Brighton is as expensive as living in London. So we run some of our training for year two teachers during the school holidays and, rather than pay supply costs to the school to cover them if they came out during the school day, we pay the teacher the supply rate for attending training during the holiday.

"It is optional from the teacher's point of view, and it doesn't always work, especially if the teacher has a young family. But this is a creative way of helping teachers to earn a bit more to help them live in the area."

Each second year teacher also has pound;1,500 and each third year teacher pound;750 to spend on his or her programme, guided by the mentor and agreed by the headteacher. The idea is to meet immediate needs and to plan several years down the line.

But the EPD programme goes beyond putting a little extra money in young teachers' pockets. It is a recognition that teaching skills need to evolve throughout a career and that those first five years are vital, says Ms McCabe. "Post-induction teachers can be cast adrift, but with early professional development in years two and three, they can be helped to look beyond their own school and further ahead into their careers.

"Working in education means working in a climate of constant movement. Our society changes quickly and education has to be able to respond. Continual improvement appears to be the order of the day.

"We don't want our NQTs to lose their momentum. Today's recruits are the best-trained teachers we have ever had, and the NQT induction year is a very good grounding. We need to keep them developing because, no matter how far they have gone at that point, they need to know more."

After receiving her EPD, Chantal Domaingue, a second year art teacher at Hove Park school in Brighton, has only one question: when is the pilot going national? "It came at a perfect time, after my NQT year finished in July 2002," she says. "It gives me a network of professional advice and a chance to reflect and evaluate my teaching early in my career, when time feels incredibly precious. The extra money paid for cover and courses so I wasn't limited by the school budget. I also got first-hand experience of being in control of capital in a similar way to a head of department.

"My main goal this year is to explore the role of head of department so I went back to my old school in Reading to shadow a department head there. It was an invaluable experience because it made me reflect on the progress I have made since leaving school.

"My mentor (Brighton and Hove teachers in years two and three get an external mentor), Rachel Brooks, is an art teacher at Varndean school in Brighton. She provides me with an insight into the similarities and contrasts within a different art department, which also helps the reflection process. We share experiences and get the chance to sit down and talk about what we're doing.

Ms Domaingue says the scheme has helped her develop "at a much faster rate than I could have done under my own steam. It has given me a massive launch into my chosen career."

Teachers are encouraged to be creative with their funding, but the local authority offers its own courses on subjects such as advanced behaviour management, and assessment for learning, which are run by the National Union of Teachers and King's College London.

The LEA also supplies professional portfolios so that young teachers can systematically gather evidence for performance management reviews and threshold assessment. Further down the line, the portfolios can count towards a master's module on planning CPD.

Brighton and Hove teachers spend a day at the start of the year reviewing career options and planning professional development with their external mentors.

Mentors are paid for the time they spend with the young teachers, and every opportunity for professional development is exploited; the mentors can use their experience towards a module on a master's course at Brighton University.

Jenny Sumner, who teaches drama at Patcham high school in Brighton, went on a week's course in drama and movement therapy for her third year EPD.

"This year I moved into a new role, co-ordinating and leading small group work for students with special needs," she says. "The EPD was creatively fulfilling and inspiring. It gave me a whole new way of looking at using drama with these students.

"I'm now thinking of specialising in drama therapy in education, which has been my long-term goal for many years. The EPD fund gave me an opportunity to get this plan into action and let me know that I hadn't been forgotten.

"My needs are as important as the students' but we often forget this as teachers. When I feel creative and inspired, as I certainly did after this course, it has an effect on students and colleagues. I only wish I had been in Brighton and Hove for my second year of teaching."

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