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Superteachers need more help

Advanced skills staff ill-prepared for outreach work to help peers, reports Joseph Lee

Excellent classroom teachers singled out to share expertise with colleagues say their preparation for their mentoring role has been non-existent or poor.

A survey of Advanced Skills Teachers found that 40 per cent had received no training before being sent to help other schools.

Of the 980 teachers who responded to the survey by CfBT, an educational charity, another 30 per cent said they had received too little training or that it was poor quality.

ASTs were created in 1998 to provide a career structure for teachers who want to stay in the classroom, and to reward good practice. After being assessed on the quality of their teaching, the staff spend part of every week doing outreach work at other schools to raise standards. They earn between Pounds 30,000 to pound;48,000, with pound;6,000 more for those in inner London.

Most ASTs felt the way they were deployed and managed by local authorities was unsatisfactory. An "astonishing number" rated aspects of the way they were managed as poor. A third said management was inadequate and confusing, leaving them feeling isolated. Another third managed their own work, often because of dissatisfaction with the authority.

None of the ASTs were satisfied that they received thorough, reliable feedback on the quality of their outreach work.

Councils said that training or networking events for advanced skills teachers often failed to coincide with their outreach days, and heads were reluctant to release them from teaching on other days.

The researchers, Chris Taylor from CfBT and Sue Jennings from Exeter university, said there were signs that training and support were improving, with recent ASTs less likely to complain.

Most heads saw advanced skills status as a good way to keep experienced staff who did not want a management position, even though it meant losing them a day a week. The researchers said: "Almost all the headteachers interviewed believed the introduction of the AST grade had made a positive contribution to the retention of good teachers. They also commended its impact on the morale of the teachers concerned. Their self-esteem and sense of value had developed considerably."

However, the researchers suggested that some schools may be abusing the system. In one council, they found secondary schools were appointing large numbers of ASTs, as many as 10 in one school, purely to gain extra funding.

"Some of these teachers have never done outreach work, and some schools are still resisting making time for it," they said.

Jody Harris, from St Osmund's middle school in Dorchester, was among the first ASTs appointed four years ago but received no training at all, although she now gets three training days each year.

She said: "They relied on us finding our own way. It was difficult. Some staff will welcome you, others will ask what on earth you're doing there.

But it's now the part of my working week I like the most. It lets me develop so many more skills."

The Work of Advanced Skills Teachers is available from: marketing@cfbt.com

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