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Student debts? No worries

Advice for teachers in their early career

RTL, the repayment of teacher loans scheme, is a fantastic deal - all the loans taken out while you were a student are paid off. A not untypical NQT borrowed pound;6,500 during her first degree and pound;4,800 in her PGCE year. Now her pound;11,300 debt and the interest accrued will be paid off.

Unfortunately, there is lots of small print. For a start, the only people eligible for this fabulous deal are those who qualified after 1 February 2002. However, it applies to all routes into teaching - unlike Golden Hellos, which are restricted to those with PGCEs. It is open to people working in maintained schools, non-maintained special schools and FE colleges in England and Wales. You need a permanent or fixed term contract of at least eight weeks with the school, college or LEA - not a supply agency.

The scheme is only for people who teach maths, science, modern foreign languages, English (including drama), Welsh, design and technology, engineering, construction or ICT for at least half of their teaching time in a normal week. I bet those of you who teach other subjects feel really sick, especially if you work harder than those getting the goodies.

Primary staff have been told they are eligible if they teach shortage subjects to classes other than their own and do so for half the week. This is very unusual - although I do know a Year 5 teacher who will be paid back her pound;17,000 loan. She teaches Year 5 and 6 sets in English, maths and science every morning.

To be eligible for repayment, you have to start teaching within seven months of gaining qualified teacher status. For most people that will mean February, but the date on your certificate is crucial - and for those who can't get a job the seven-month limit is a headache.

Lastly, you must have a loan debt with the Student Loans Company. The scheme has just been extended to include teachers with Scottish or Northern Irish student loans if they teach in England and Wales and meet the other criteria. Teachers accepted will have their applications backdated to when they became eligible.

The debts aren't paid off in one go: it's over ten years if you have an income-contingent loan, or around seven years for the mortgage-style loans.

So, although you can move schools, you can't stop being a teacher of those shortage subjects. If you do, you'll have to make the repayments yourself.

You have to complete a declaration form every year and get it signed by the head to prove you're meeting the criteria. To claim, ring the Student Loans Company on 0870 240 6298 Sara Bubb's 'The Insider's Guide for New Teachers' is published by TESKogan Page price pound;12.99

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