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Fired up and raring to go

Teachers are standing by to see what exactly the fast track to promotion and higher pay involves. The first high-flyers on the runway have still to earn their wings, says Jill Parkin

Superteachers are under starter's orders and about to take off on the controversial fast track. After delays caused by the High Court judgment on threshold standards, existing teachers cannot be selected for super status until next autumn. But the call-up for fledgling teachers - those due to start initial teacher training next September - is about to begin in earnest.

The superteacher's flight path is still something of a mystery. The identity of the small number of institutions expected to offer ITT fast track places has been kept under wraps. How their training will vary from anyone else's is not clear either. Even the Institute of Education in London, one of Britain's biggest training colleges, is in the dark. A spokeswoman said: "A few days ago we received a letter inviting us to be a fast track provider but we don't know anything about the scheme yet."

The Government hopes that eventually 5 per cent of the teaching force will be on the fast track, lured by more money and the prospect of early promotion. But the pound;5,000 bursary for fast track student teachers - only a quarter of which is paid upfront - comes with some hefty strings attached.

The Department for Education and Employment expects "additional commitment" from superteachers, which means extra hours, a willingness to attend training courses (including summer schools), an acceptance of tough short-term posts and of beingregularly assessed, with the threat of being booted off the fast track if their performance falters.

After training, fast trackers will face what the Government calls "a structured programme of challenging teaching posts". It will cover urban and rural schools, ethnically diverse schools and failing schools. Fast track posts, identified by headteachers, will normally last two years. They will have to be approved by a specially set up arm of the DFEE.

About 23,000 new teachers are trained each year. The Government says fast track selection is to be by merit alone and so there is no set quota for fast trackers, but at most about 1,000 a year are expected to be recruited before, during or soon after their training.

Selection looks like being lengthy and detailed. A newly trained teacher who took part in a pilot recuitment session last year, and asked to remain anonymous, told The TES that it involved two days of verbal presentations, written tests, a teamwork exercise and role play sessions with actors.

The teacher, who was made assistant head of year at the end of his induction year, is just the sort of graduate at which the fast-track scheme is aimed. He said: "I went into the pilot thinking I might go for the fast track, but like the nine other people, I came out thinking absolutely not." He thought the difference in pay was not enough to compensate for a series of short-term posts.

Existing teachers will take up fast track posts from April 2002. Trainees who meet the criteria at the end of their course will take up such posts from September 2002.

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