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New elite for the common room

The civil service fast-stream recruitment scheme - cited by David Blunkett as a model for bringing top graduates into teaching - confers undoubted benefits on those who survive its arduous selection process.

Those outside the loop, however, see it as the preserve of a white, male,Oxbridge elite.

The difference will be that, while fast-streamers in Whitehall's policy-making departments rarely rub shoulders with their "slow-stream" colleagues in benefit agencies and tax offices, teachers will be sharing a staffroom.

Last year, 43 applied for every civil service fast-stream vacancy - 7, 172 people competing for 168 jobs, including 2,000 for just 25 posts in the diplomatic service.

The successful will have endured a day of numerical and verbal reasoning tests, a two-day selection board of more tests, group exercises and interviews, and finally a 45-minute interview by senior civil servants.

They will start as higher executive officers on #163;13,400-#163;28, 000 (few start much below #163;17,000), with intensive high-quality training, a variety of postings and even secondment to industry.

They can expect promotion in four to six years, jumping a grade as they do so, to a Grade 7 post - two steps below senior civil servant - on #163;26,100-#163;45,000.

By comparison, a graduate in the slow stream will start at best as a mere executive officer on #163;15,000-22,000, and take at least eight years to reach the same Grade 7 post. Few get that far - most end their days no higher than the point at which fast-trackers begin, and it's possible for more lowly staff to spend whole careers on an inflation-linked #163;12,000.

Oxbridge graduates make up 9 per cent of applicants but a third of fast-streamers. Men outnumber women roughly three-to-two and have a slightly better success rate. Ethnic-minority applicants last year had one-sixth the success rate of whites.

Or as one (non-fast-stream) civil servant said: "If you went to the right school you go screaming past the poor souls who actually do the work. "

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