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Superteacher, super pay. . . and super problems?

Unions fear that proposals to give advanced skills teachers up to pound;40,000 could create difficulties with differentials. Frances Rafferty reports

Teacher unions will continue to oppose the new grade of "superteacher", which will see classroom teachers being paid up to pound;40,000, despite the Government's claim that it will be popular with the profession.

The Government wants good teachers to be rewarded for their skills and to stay in the classroom rather than seek promotion to management roles. They will be expected to share their expertise with others in their school.

The School Teachers' Review Body, following a policy paper from the Department for Education and Employment, has set out a pay spine - from pound;25,000 to pound;40,000 - for the advanced skills teachers.

The superteachers will be expected to work longer hours than their classroom colleagues and will spend up to one day a week as mentors to staff, advising on classroom organisation and teaching methods, and preparing teaching materials.

The review body described the AST proposals as "radical and innovative". However, it shared some of the concerns of the teacher unions, who said the grade may cause problems of pay differentials within schools, and may worsen recruitment difficulties for deputy heads and headships.

The DFEE said the pay must be comparable to a head's or deputy's pay. The review body has recommended that the superteacher's employer will select a five-point range from within the AST pay scale. Further payments on the spine will be made subject to performance criteria.

The new grade will first be used in September in education action zones. The ASTs will be employed by the school's governing body or the zone's forum. In the introductory phase special inspectors will recruit them, but in the longer term new arrangements will be established and the Teacher Training Agency will develop standards.

The teacher unions said ASTs will have only a limited effect as they will be in a minority. They are also concerned that the role will cut across the duties already carried out by other members of staff - for example department heads and deputies who are routinely involved in mentoring newly- qualified staff.

The unions said it was unlikely governing bodies would want to fund ASTs from their normal budgets. The Government said some money would be available from specific grants, but it is unclear how long this would last.

The review body has made recommendations which ease the introduction of superteachers, but is to leave the detail to governing bodies. It said: "It will be for the relevant body appointing an AST to determine an appropriate five-point pay range from the overall spine. This leaves a lot of discretion to meet local circumstances, and pay differentials with senior members of the school will need to be handled sensitively."

Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett said: "The introduction of this grade shows our commitment to rewarding the best teachers and encouraging the brightest graduates to consider teaching as a career."

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