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Race to be the brightest and best

Ten thousand people have contacted the Government about its scheme to create a cadre of top teachers - a scheme with only 300 places.

The Fast Track programme aims to pull the best and brightest graduates into teaching by offering accelerated training and development. Fast-trackers will change jobs more frequently and work in schools that are able to offer the support and variety of experience that ministers want.

When the programme was first mooted in a 1998 Green Paper ministers were concerned about the poor response. A year later Education Secretary David Blunkett announced that in return for longer working hours and a commitment to take "the most challenging jobs", fast-trackers would get double annual pay increments, a laptop computer and an accelerated five-year route through the new pay threshold.

When the scheme was launched in the autumn, teachers complained that the fast-trackers, portrayed in the ads climbing to the top of a mountain, appeared to be progressing at the expense of their colleagues.

The closing date for applications for student places on Fast Track is now January 31 (extended from January 5), but there is more than one route onto the programme. The first fast-trackers to enter the classroom are likely to come from within the profession. Teachers need to register their interest through the Fast Track website. They will be contacted in September and formally invited to apply. Successful candidates would enter the Fast Track in April 2002. The number of places available for serving teachers is not yet known.

Teaching students will follow the same timetable, but graduates who have been temp ted by the national campaign will follow a different path.

The 10,000 who contacted the DFEE will have been asked to register. Application forms are on their way to those who did. After an initial sift those applicants will be asked to take a test to ascertain whether they have the "strong commitment to driving change, desire to have a positive impact on pupils, natural inspirational qualities, potential to be an excellent leader and ability to communicate effectively at all levels" - all of which the Government feels are essential qualities for potential fast-trackers.

The next stage is an interview in February at one of the 10 institutions selected to run the training. The final hurdle for the now considerably depleted list of candidates will be two days at an assessment centre. The first of these fast-trackers will enter the classroom in September 2002 after a one-year post-graduate certificate in education course.

"We've been reassured by the selection criteria," said Mike Fleming at Durham University. "They want qualities that will translate into excellence in the classroom. I don't think that Fast-Track candidates should have a radically different experience from ordinary PGCE students. It is such a demanding year anyway."

Durham is expecting 15-20 fast-trackers out of a normal intake of "around 250". The emphasis is likely to be on supplementing the course with additional experience, contacts with other fast-trackers, mentoring and study opportunities.

Durham runs an MA with Qualified Teacher Status where students continue to study for the masters in their induction year. Mike Fleming feels that would be an ideal route for fast-trackers. Other institutions are believed to be thinking in terms of a Fast Track summer term, once the bulk of the school experience and assessment of PGCE is complete.

But it is still not certain what reception will await fast-trackers when they enter the staffroom. Teacher associations are lukewarm and John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, reflects the general concern.

"A Fast Track graduate may be the brightest, but can they cope with 2C on a Friday afternoon? We are not in favour of a Fast-Track system which seeks to identify and promote teachers before they have proved themselves."

Graduates chasing the 300 Fast Track teacher places face stiff competition. Phil Revell reports on the Government's scheme to create a teaching elite.

Some mistake? Trenica King (left), winner of the Plato award for best new teacher in a secondary school last year, would not have been judged good enough for a Fast Track place.

Ms King, who teaches health and social care and sociology at Chalvedon school, Basildon, Essex, said: "Looking at the academic criteria, Iwouldn't have been accepted. I only got 14 UCAS points (22 points are required to enter the programme). Academic ability is not a good indicator of whether someone can teach."

Flora Wilson, the student union president at London University's Institute of Education, is also deeply sceptical about Fast Track.

"The best and brightest will not be recruited and retained by gimmicks like this," she said. "We've seen some very well-qualified institute graduates enter teaching only to leave after a couple of years."

Ms Wilson, a Cambridge graduate, was not attracted by the programme. "Having to change schools every couple of years and not being able to choose the school I went to - these are not attractive for me."

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