All lines are confused

28th January 2000 at 00:00
Gill Boag-Munroe wanted to become an advanced skills teacher. Advanced what?

I had two bemusing telephone conversations two weeks ago in the pursuit of information on how to apply for advanced skills teacher status. You will recall the Government's pride in the notion that this scheme will somehow raise the status of teachers and create a new career path for those wishing to stay at the chalkface. You will also recall that the Government is keen to reduce the bureaucratic workload of teachers. Bear this in mind while I report on these conversations.

Telephone conversation number one between myself and the DfEE (the "AST number" given on its Internet site) GBM: Hello. Could you kindly send me an application form for AST status? I've been told I have to apply to you for one.

DfEE:Well, you can download it from the Internet.

GBM: Ah, yes. But I was wondering whether there was any hard copy of information. We don't appear to have any in school. I've managed to download some from the Internet, but all we've had in school is a glossy three-page leaflet in December saying we have to apply by January 14. Is this really the deadline?

DfEE:No, you can ignore that. But it's the easiest thing in the world to get stuff off the Internet. (This was said with condescending smugness.) GBM: Not if you are working in a classroom all day, have to cross the campus, climb four flights of stairs and fight for a computer that's online. Hard copy is much easier to carry around to read in odd moments during the day, or study at home at night. However, from what I have managed to glean from the Internet, am I right in assuming that heads of department are not eligible to apply for AST status?

DfEE:Yes. You see the whole point of AST status is that you stay in the classroom rather than just doing admin work. You are expected to offer expert guidance to the department, train them and so on.

GBM: Hmm. So what do heads of department do then? I've always seen my job as to lead a team, offer expert guidance, training and so on.

DfEE:Ah. Well, heads of department are there for the administrative side. Most of the applications we receive are from heads of department, though. Anyway, are you applying for a post that's been created withn your school?

GBM: No. As far as we know, there are no changes to the management structure of the school to take account of ASTs.

DfEE:Ah. Then you won't be able to apply for AST status. You have to be applying for a specific job, either in your own school or elsewhere. And your local authority has to be participating in the scheme, too. Which LEA are you?

GBM: ** DfEE:Ah. Your LEA is not participating in the scheme. You could give them a ring and ask why. Most of those not participating are saying it's because of lack of interest. So if you ring them, they can't use that argument, can they? I have a horrible feeling there's a letter on its way to me, isn't there?

GBM: If I had time to write one, there would be.

Telephone conversation number two, with my LEA LEA 1: Hello. Can I help you?

GBM: Yes I'd like to speak to the person who is co-ordinating ASTs please.

LEA 1: AST? What's that? I've never heard of it.

GBM: It's advanced skills teacher, the new Government initiative to pay teachers more and give them a better career structure.

LEA 1: I don't really know who to put you through to. I'll try the conference room.

LEA 2: Hello. Conference room.

GBM: Hello. I'm trying to reach the person who is responsible for co-ordinating ASTs in the LEA.

LEA 2: AST? I've never heard of it. What does it stand for?

GBM: Advanced skills teacher.

LEA 2: Is that a course we are running here?

GBM: No, no, no. It's part of the new government pay and career structure for teachers.

LEA 2: Oh, we don't have anything to do with that. You could try the inspector's office, they might know something about it.

At this point, I run out of free time and I have neither the patience nor the time to pursue the matter later in the day. So could someone please reassure me on two points: 1. That I'm not going mad. The Government really has announced the new career structure for teachers (in full consultation with them about their needs and frustrations).

2. That there really is no government conspiracy to hide the AST scheme so that they can then say that teachers don't want it.

Gill Boag-Munroe is head of English and senior mentor at Old Swinford Hospital, Stourbridge


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