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Five steps to heaven

A pioneering professional development programme is boosting teachers' pay as well as their school's performance. Gerald Haigh reports

Sian Cleaver teaches art, design and photography at Davison C of E high school, a 12-16 girls' comprehensive in Worthing, West Sussex. She's been there six years, and now she wants to move forward professionally, gain experience in management and make contact with the world of education outside her own school gates.

So she's developing a project to loosen up the way a school works, allowing students to progress at their own rate, for example, joining a fast-track to take GCSE and A-levels early. She's keeping a portfolio of her work on the project, called Edita (Expanding differentiation into time allocation), and soon she'll be assessed by school management and governors. If they approve her work she'll be awarded an extra point on the salary scale - with the chance of more.

It's not unusual for heads to ask teachers to take on work that can help their professional development as well as bring benefits to the school. What's special about Davison is the detailed structure within which it takes place - a system of continuing professional development called "Expert Trail" that puts every member of staff on a five-stage programme. Ms Cleaver is at stage three. "To go further, I need to involve other schools," she says. "So I'm planning a day conference when they can come in and discuss what we're doing."

Every member of staff is somewhere along the trail. Textiles teacher Catriona Nurse, for example, is co-ordinating the school's responsibilities as a beacon school. "We have to show that our best practice is having an effect," she says. "I'm going to local meetings, coming back and working with the staff, making sure everything is running smoothly with partner schools."

Support staff are involved, too. The school is helping its finance officer, Ann Scales, towards a qualification in personnel management. "A lot of my work is leaning towards personnel and employment law, so I registered for the course at the college. The school pays and gives me study time."

Davison puts a lot of its resources into Expert Trail. Teachers have more non-contact time than is common - the maximum teaching load is 39 periods in a 50-period fortnight, so there's room in the day for consultations, meetings and research. Most importantly, though, once a teacher gets to the end of stage three, the money kicks in - one salary point at stage three, another at stage four, and a third at the end of stage five. And, of course, all of this work, and the portfolio of evidence, is directly relevant outside the school, not only for performance assessment and the threshold, but also to qualifications such as Master's degrees and the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH).

How does a high-achieving secondary school manage to give its teachers money and time for professional development in this way? The answer, says head Dame Sheila Wallis, lies in the school's other pioneering project - the use of specially recruited and trained cover supervisors instead of teachers to cover for staff absence. "They can be employed for a fifth of the cost of a supply teacher," she says. "It's enabled me to improve the pupil-teacher contact ratio, and it's changed the culture in the staffroom. Teachers are genuinely researchers now. If you don't have time to talk to each other in school, you are missing the wonderful opportunity of learning from each other."

Good development opportunities, with the possibility of salary increases, also help solve the problem of teachers who'd like to stay but want promotion. "The Expert Trail is a major factor in retention. Teachers see real investment in their learning," Dame Sheila says.

The system is only part of the story, though. Kay Taylor, professional studies manager who runs Expert Trail, says the leadership of Sheila Wallis - recognised when she was made a Dame in the New Year honours list - and her ability to make people feel valued - have been key factors in the school's success.

"Leadership, the role of the head, is crucial," says Ms Taylor. "First, there's her vision for the school, of the things we all want - exam results, full development of pupils, working with the community. Then she's gone on to say, 'OK, let's look at developing all the people who are expected to enable this to happen.' That's where our head has it right."

As Dame Sheila puts it: "We shouldn't just rely on the Department for Education and Skills and the local authorities. As heads, we should be looking to our own resources to find what works for us in our schools. It's the job of a leader to spot people's skills and talents and devise ways to develop them."

The Expert Trail

* Stage one concentrates on classroom practice, relating subject knowledge to school development, using pupil data to inform teaching, using ICT, monitoring and evaluating self and pupil progress. Assessment by head, line manager and manager of professional studies.

* Stage two continues developing classroom skills and adds an area of expertise, such as assessment, behaviour management, mentoring, or differentiation. Assessment as in stage one.

* Stage three adds management of a small team to develop, implement and monitor the focus area. Assessment as for stage one, plus the chair of the governors' personnel committee. One salary point for completion.

* Stage four adds the development, implementation and monitoring of a major whole-school initiative. Assessment as for stage three. A further salary point on completion.

* Stage five, called "consultant status", involves working at consultant level in the school and in outreach work with other schools, colleges, support services and businesses. Assessment as for stage four, plus a senior member of the local authority's advisory and inspection team. A further salary point on completion. (Experienced teachers recruited as, say, heads of department, aren't rewarded by salary in the same way, but they are entitled to a professional development programme.) More details from Davison high school, Selborne Road, Worthing, West Sussex. BN11 2JX. email: info@davison.w-sussex.sch.uk

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