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Ministers seek elite for new fast track

High-flying trainee teachers will get a laptop and an extra pound;5,000 a year but it is still unclear what they will do to earn it. Karen Thornton reports.

STUDENTS wanting to follow the new fast-track teacher-training route will need better academic results than their colleagues.

They will also have to demonstrate ambition, "natural inspirational qualities," a strong commitment to driving change, and the potential to be excellent leaders.

But while the Government is keen to press for "more" from the fast-trackers, ministers are unwilling to specify what this involves.

The Department for Education and Employment will not even say how many applications it expects, although the training institutions speculate there could be up to 300 on courses in the first year, starting in September 2001.

Applications from potential fast-trackers are being invited now, via a new website launched this week.

Financial incentives for fast-trackers include their own laptop computer and pound;5,000 fast-track bursaries - on top of the pound;6,000 training bursary introduced this year for postgraduate trainees, and pound;4,000 golden hellos for those training in the shortage subjects of maths, science, modern foreign languages and technology.

Existing staff can apply to go on the fast-track. But because of the National Union of Teachers' successful appeal against threshold payments, their applications will not be accepted until next autumn, for posts starting in April 2002.

The Secondary Heads' Asociation remains opposed to a fast-track for student teachers, saying it should only be available to qualified teachers who have had at least a year in the job to prove themselves.

John Dunford, SHA's general secretary said: "To have a fast track is sensible in principle, but it should not be available until you have proved yourself with 2C on a Friday afternoon."

But the 10 training institutions working with the DFEE on the details of the new scheme are enthusiastic about fast track's potential to attract the most able graduates.

Professor Kate Jacques, Manchester Metropolitan's education director, said:

"This is trying to attract really talented and ambitious individuals who want to get promotion quickly. Among some graduates, there has been this notion that you are stuck in a classroom for ages when they want a leadership role much more quickly."

Warwick's Professor Jim Campbell agreed: "It is controversial because it is seen by some as developing an elite cadre, and therefore as divisive. But the big advantage is it may attract into teaching a group of people who would otherwise not be involved - very able, very committed people, with strong ambitions to make the system work better."

Ministers have agreed to extend a pilot of training salaries for primary postgraduate courses for another year. But they have no plans to fund trainees in the final year of undergraduate courses.

See www.fasttrackteaching.gov.uk and www.tes.co.uk for more details.

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