'Extend Pounds 10k bonus to primaries, too'

26th June 2009 at 01:00
Secondary pupils aren't alone in needing best teachers, argues think- tank

Highly skilled teachers should be paid Pounds 10,000 "golden handcuff" bonuses to work in the country's most challenging junior and infant schools, a leading think-tank has recommended.

The Teach First programme, which places top graduates in inner-city secondaries, should also be extended to primaries in a bid to raise the status of the sector and attract more high-fliers, the Sutton Trust said in a report published today.

Primary schools are too often overlooked by policymakers and can be viewed as a second-class route into teaching, the report, co-written by the National Education Trust, warns.

It calls for more primary schools to be organised into federations so that ambitious heads can be given responsibility for several schools.

The recommendation on pay follows a government decision earlier this year to give extra money to selected teachers joining schools with low exam results and high numbers of children eligible for free school meals.

Ministers estimate that the deal will benefit up to 6,000 new appointments a year in more than 500 secondary schools. The Government said it would pay for half of the Pounds 10,000 bonus, payable after three years, with schools expected to fund the rest.

But James Turner, director of policy at the Sutton Trust, which campaigns to improve social mobility, said primary schools in challenging areas had to offer the same financial incentives to attract the best teachers.

"Effective teaching targeted at those who need it most is critical in reducing the inequalities that emerge pre-school and widen with age," he said.

"If we can get more high-quality teachers into our poorest primary schools and reward them for staying there, we will be much better placed to ensure that children from all backgrounds enter secondary school with the skills and knowledge to prosper."

The report also calls for an expansion in work-based training routes into primary teaching.

The moves could make it easier for primary schools to attract more male teachers, the report suggests. Just 16 per cent of primary positions are currently filled by men.

The government decision to focus its golden handcuff initiative on secondaries led some primary teachers to complain that their efforts were not being properly rewarded.

But the call to extend it to primaries has not won unconditional support from teachers' leaders, who fear it could be divisive.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it would not help teachers who have already been "slogging away" in challenging schools for years.

He also said that, although executive head roles could be useful, every primary school should retain its own headteacher, who should be properly paid.

Teach First, which has been highly praised for its impact on challenging secondary schools, is conducting a two-year pilot in which foreign- language specialists are placed in primary schools. This year, 10 participants have been placed; the number will increase to 29 from September.

A spokeswoman for the charity that runs the scheme said it was Teach First's "intention and hope" in the long term to increase its presence in primary schools, but only after the pilot had been fully evaluated. Any expansion will require significant new funding, she added.

Teach for America, its sister programme, already covers elementary schools, and in some US states as many as half the recruits teach younger children.

But a spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families ruled out extending the golden handcuffs offer to primary schools. Recruitment to primary training is already "buoyant" with well qualified candidates, "which makes the extra payments unjustified," she said. Letters, pages 26-27.

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