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Super-teacher plan puts pay body's nose out of joint

Union fury as new Government definition of advanced skills status is imposed and delays salary review. Frances Rafferty reports

The teachers' pay review body has told ministers it will have to postpone announcing details of the new grade of "super-teacher" which it says the Government has imposed against its wishes.

Tony Vineall, chairman of the School Teachers' Review Body, called a meeting with Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, this week to discuss a document outlining his department's policy on the advanced skills grade which greatly differed from previous guidance.

The document was sent by the Department for Education and Employment just before Christmas only a month before the review body was due to publish its report.

Teacher unions have reacted in fury. They say the review body's independence has been severely undermined. David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, has announced that advanced skills teachers will work in education action zones, before the new grade has have even been agreed by the review body.

Relations between ministers and the review body have been tense ever since Mr Blunkett said the extra pound;2.3 billion announced by the Chancellor for education cannot be spent on teachers' pay.

Mr Byers agreed at this week's meeting to allow the pay review body more time to consider the proposals and report back on the AST grade in a few months' time. The Government has the power to disregard advice from the body.

The review body had preferred the expert teacher model proposed by the Teacher Training Agency - a broader category, rewarding good work, that all teachers could aspire to. The DFEE definition of advanced skills teachers (ASTs) is much narrower and will apply only to a minority of teachers.

Under current proposals, ASTs will not be centrally-based advisory teachers, but will spend most of their time at their school. They will have their own pay spine and will receive pay equivalent to heads and deputies.

They will be able to spend one day a week out of the classroom, disseminating good practice to colleagues, acting as mentors to new staff and producing material and videos for wider use. The local education authority will be expected to pay for supply cover, otherwise a school can pay for an AST from its budget to work there full-time.

The limits on working hours for classroom teachers will not apply and the pay review body has been asked to suggest extra statutory professional duties for the grade.

The DFEE paper says the first ASTs should start work this September with more in post by September 1999. They are expected to be employed, initially, in education action zones and specialist schools. Action zones will be eligible for grants to pay for ASTs.

Mr Blunkett wants a two-stage selection procedure. Candidates for AST status will put themselves forward and then be evaluated by inspectors recruited especially for that purpose. Once candidates have made the grade they will be able to apply for posts.

The teacher unions say they are unclear how ASTs will fit within the present structure and say many of their duties are already carried out by department heads and deputies. Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The AST would have a similar salary to those of a head and deputy. This would undermine existing staff structures and create problems of line management. Where does the head of department fit in? Why would anyone take on the onerous responsibilities of a department head when they could earn more as an AST producing Blue Peter teaching materials."

Local authorities believe the "super-teacher" scheme should be piloted, as education action zones are not typical situations. They are concerned that the ASTs will not be employed where they are most needed, for example in failing schools.

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