So-called superteachers are being made "miserable" by a government scheme that singles them out as the best of the best - because they are constantly teased by colleagues.
The Excellent Teacher Scheme (ETS) is unpopular with many schools and local authorities and mired in confusion and "invisibility", according to a government report on the failure of the project.
Ministers thought 20 per cent of eligible teachers would become ETs and that between 3,000 and 5,000 when it was launched five years ago would sign up in the first year alone. But so far there are only 59, and those doing the job say the title creates high expectations that are hard to live up to.
At its inception, unions warned that labelling a few teachers as "excellent" would alienate colleagues, and said it was unwise to set an arbitrary number for those eligible to take part.
The researchers, from London Metropolitan University, interviewed teachers and heads about the scheme for more than a year to find out if they find it useful and the reason for the low take-up.
They concluded that the vast majority of ETs "strongly disliked" the title and most reported being teased about it. While much of this was "jokey", the cumulative effect was to make them feel miserable.
Some schools opt not to use the title; others discouraged its use. The researchers said this is making the scheme "invisible", as is the low number of ET posts created by heads.
Reasons given for their reluctance to employ excellent teachers include a lack of cash and of suitable applicants - either because there were no interested candidates or because they were deterred by the assessment process - and fears that the role is divisive.
In many schools, staff were already doing ET duties and in some areas local authorities discouraged the scheme.
Teachers have also criticised the lack of information on the ET scheme - only a third said they had heard of it.
The report calls for a rethink on the use of the term "Excellent Teacher". Older staff thought the name was poorly thought out, while younger teachers were less in favour of a change - mostly because they saw the title as an award for excellence rather than a job.
"It was clear from the interviews that the title had given rise to ill-feeling in many of the schools, particularly among teachers who did not have a personal relationship with the ET," the report says.
"Interviewees used words such as 'stigma' and 'cynical' when talking about the title.
"The vast majority of ETs strongly disliked the title; only one positively liked it. Most of them told of being teased by colleagues. While much of this was 'jokey', the cumulative effect of this had made some of them miserable."
But other teachers thought the new post was a "reward" for those who are exceptional at their jobs and that it might improve motivation and retention - especially for older teachers.
They also thought it could provide support for those newer to the profession.
CREAM OF THE CROP
The Excellent Teacher Scheme was introduced as part of the 2004 pay deal for teachers and began in 2006.
ETs are intended to be role models for less experienced staff, running demonstration coaching and mentoring schemes. This is expected to raise pupils' performance. They earn from Pounds 37,672 to Pounds 48,437 in bands B-D.
Salaries in inner London will rise by 20 per cent in September to a minimum of Pounds 46,866 - up from Pounds 37,672.
In May 2007, just 34 had applied for ET assessment, of whom 26 had qualified. By December 2008, 59 in England and Wales had been successfully assessed, and eight had been unsuccessful.
ETs are more likely to be appointed in secondaries and in schools with high numbers of pupils. A disproportionate number of ETs are female, particularly in secondaries. More than half of those in secondary schools teach core subjects.