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Teachers in line to get sabbaticals

Karen Thornton reports on a Government scheme to keep staff up-to-date

All teachers could be offered a term off for training or research, as part of a raft of Government proposals aimed at boosting their professional development.

The sabbatical after several years' service - exactly how many is yet to be fixed - would be part of the pay-off for insisting that teachers keep up-to-date with professional practice, according to plans being discussed by civil servants.

Other proposals under consideration include a glossy guide to existing training opportunities, international exchanges, Government cash for individual learning accounts for teachers, and a code of practice for training providers to help maintain quality.

The teacher associations are keen to see their members' training and development improve. But they are concerned about how the proposals will be funded, and say teachers are opposed to having to pay towards their own training or to undertake any more out of school hours.

But there is conflict within the department about the proposals - many of which are speculative and uncosted - and funding still has to be resolved.

Many of the proposals were outlined last year in the Government's Green Paper on teachers' pay and performance, but were lost amid the wave of teachers' protests to performance-related pay.

The Department for Education and Employment is planning to launch a scholarship teacher research programme early next month. Inner-city councils will be invited to bid for projects.

The pilot international exchanges are expected to be launched in November.

Pilots of teacher development accounts - which staff would contribute towards - are expected to start in September 2000.

The accounts would be used to help pay for training and ministers have said they hope all school staff will eventually have one. Consultations have begun on a code of practice, with a draft expected this autumn and a final version in place by early 2000.

There are suggestions that the department should commission an independent survey of schools and education authorities to establish how existing professional development funds are used.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the proposals on professional development were one of the most positive aspects of the Government's Green Paper - but raised important funding issues.

"The prime responsibility for funding the profession's development lies with government," he said. "Learning accounts are a positive move - providing the Government realises that they are highly unlikely to persuade teachers to invest in them unless it is prepared to fund the overwhelming proportion of the profession's development needs."

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said most of its members supported an entitlement to professional development and an obligation to keep up to date - but opposed paying for training, or giving up their own time for it.

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