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Shall I stay or shall I go?;Talkback

What are the chances of getting the new grade of 'super-teacher'? Jenny Owl tries to find out

At last, a government committed to keeping experienced teachers in the classroom. Having start-ed my career in an inner-city school where any teacher able to make it through a week was automatically offered the vacant head of department's post, I am now a serial HOD. I have run departments in very different schools for 10 years. Bizarrely, I even enjoy teaching - sometimes.

It is time to move on.Given that I like teaching, though, do I really want to join a senior management team? As my school is considering joining an education action zone, I decided to investigate the Advanced Skills Teacher grade. To work out my chances, I needed to know how many AST posts there would be. I rang the Department for Education and Employment. Should I abandon all hope now and start applying for SMT posts? Or hang on in there for the chance of, to quote Doug McAvoy, National Union of Teachers' general secretary, "producing Blue Peter teaching materials"?

The civil servant who picked up my call answered that ministers were "currently reviewing proposals". In short, no one knew - till Monday of last week. Education Secretary David Blunkett publicly trumpeted the new grade of teacher. My eyes raced through the newspaper articles. Yes, but how many? "There are no indications how many AST posts ministers expect to be created." Ah.

However, there are likely to be only a handful of education action zones running by September. The extra money available to each secondary school looks unlikely to cover the average costs of employing even an ordinary classroom teacher. Besides, each school will face a number of competing demands for the extra sum available. (This is even before someone, somewhere, has to decide whether Ms Super Technology Teacher is more or less super than Mr Super-duper Modern Languages Teacher, as there certainly won't be enough money for both.) So, reading between the lines, when Mr Blunkett says that the first ASTs should start this September, he means that the third and fourth ASTs will start in September 1999 and that we can confidently expect ASTs in double figures by the millennium.

SMT posts, here I come! Except that the job responsibilities are often impossibly far-fetched. One school I contacted cited the final desirable quality for the post as "the ability to walk on water".

Still, hard work never killed anyone - just made their lives a misery. So I did some sums. The extra incremental point of an SMT post means a little over pound;2,000 gross. After deductions, most of this would disappear on the obligatory new suits, a car (as there are never any vacant SMT posts in schools that are easily reachable by public transport), extra child-minding costs for all those early morning SMT briefings and late evenings, and a huge new briefcase. (No head would appreciate my turning up to important meetings with my trusty Tesco carrier bags.) Of course, there are marginally enhanced pension benefits. If I live that long.

So let's hear it for Mr Blunkett, who is likely to succeed in his aim of keeping experienced teachers in the classroom. Albeit for the wrong reasons.

Jenny Owl teaches in the north-west

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