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Q What's happening to the Advanced Skills Teacher (AST)grade?

A This was a grade designed for those interested in teaching but who did not want to become side-tracked into management. It has had something of a chequered history, having been re-launched by ministers on several occasions during its existence. Today, it is used in some areas as a key tool in the battle to improve teaching, but largely ignored by other authorities. Recent figures show that while the number of accredited ASTs has continued to rise in the secondary sector, the number accredited to work in the primary sector has fallen in the past year to less than 10 per local authority. So, unless your local authority is keen on ASTs, or you are a mathematics or science teacher, don't bank on the grade as part of your career plans. You might be lucky, but there will be no degree of certainty. Promotion beyond head of department level is much more likely to be to an assistant headship, where numbers have grown by more than 4,000 during the past two years: that's about the sum total for all accredited ASTs, and more than there are in post. Of course, you might look for an Excellent Teacher post, but that's a column for another time.

Q Will doing a master's degree help my career?

A Over the years, there has been a tension between, on the one hand, doing courses and portfolios of training that directly relate to teaching and, on the other hand, undertaking longer and more reflective university-based study for a higher degree. Of course, all professional development has benefits, even those sometimes absurd school-based days where a consultant has staff doing seemingly meaningless tasks in the name of team building or self-understanding. There are times when focusing on the here and now is important, but there may also be times when taking a deeper look at an area may pay dividends. Often, the tension is between the immediate needs of the schools and the longer-term needs of the individual. A good degree course will help you develop your knowledge, sometimes your skills and always your ability, to be a better, self-critical and reflective practitioner. That's bound to be good for your career

John Howson is a recruitment analyst and visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University. To ask him a question, email him at

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