A plan to tempt the best teachers into "challenging" secondaries with Pounds 10,000 payments will only create division and damage morale in the schools it is supposed to help, teachers have warned.
The "golden handcuffs" scheme announced this week will apply to schools where 30 per cent or more pupils qualify for free school meals and those in the National Challenge scheme because of low GCSE results. But it will only be available for new recruits who agree to teach in the schools for three years.
Mary Bousted, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' general secretary, said: "It will be grossly unfair to the teachers who already work in those schools and risks damaging morale and creating divisions between staff. We have yet to see any evidence it will work."
The Government says existing staff will benefit because qualifying schools will receive extra money, allowing them to offer two new excellent teacher or advanced skills teacher posts to help develop staff.
But that has failed to convince sceptics. Deborah Simpson, the pay and conditions officer at Voice, another teachers' union, argues the idea is "potentially divisive".
"Staff need to be able to work together as a team, especially in tough schools," she said.
"Has the Government considered how teachers who are already doing a good job in challenging circumstances will feel when new teachers are brought in and paid considerably more than they are?"
Funding the "golden handcuffs" could prove to be a problem as the Government will provide only half of the one-off Pounds 10,000 payments - schools will be expected to find the rest from their own budgets.
It will be up to heads to decide who among their new recruits they think are the "best" teachers and should qualify.
Kevin Speake, a PE teacher at a Manchester secondary, opposes the idea. "I think heads being the judge will create issues," he said. "After all, how long have they been out of the classroom? Experienced teaching staff must be involved in the process."
Qualifying schools will be able to benefit from a network allowing them to share best practice with staff in other participating schools.
Newly qualified teachers in these schools will be given access to the new masters degree in teaching and learning this year. New heads of department will be offered the same chance in 2010.
The "golden handcuffs" scheme is a recognition of increasing evidence that it is the quality of teachers that makes the most difference in raising standards.
But John Dunford, the Association of School and College Leaders' general secretary, said intervention at the earliest stage in a child's life through parenting classes should be the highest priority for increasing social mobility in the short term.
Carol Hall, a secondary languages teacher, told The TES: "I personally think the money would be better spent giving the pupils the level of teacher attention at the primary stage that fee-paying schools provide. It is at this stage that the disadvantaged start to fall behind as their reading and general language skills are poor."