Helpline

17th October 1997 at 01:00
Q. What is an "advanced skills teacher"?

A. If you knew the answer to this, you might well secure a lucrative appointment as an adviser to the Government. There are a number of different versions, but no final definition.

One derives from the long-established myth that there are many brilliant classroom teachers whose merits have either been unrewarded because they are unwilling to accept posts of responsibility which carry enhancements of salary, or have been lost because they have succumbed to such inducements and left the classroom. Such teachers, so it is argued, should be paid more just for being brilliant.

Although superficially attractive, this raises all sorts of questions about who makes the judgments, what will be the criteria and what will be the impact on those who fail to make the grade. What happens if they cease to be brilliant? In any event, the case rests on the twin assumptions that good teaching has not, in general, been recognised by promotion and that those promoted teach significantly less than others. Neither can be shown to be true, even in the second case, except for heads and, in secondary schools, their deputies.

What this does indicate, however, is that when teachers are promoted, schools have laid insufficient emphasis on pedagogical leadership, development and guidance.

If this were properly done, it would make the second version superfluous. This suggests that we need to identify and reward the best teachers and enable them to pass on their skills to others. But the problems remain about how this should be done. This approach, if developed more extensively than at present, definitely takes good teachers out of the classroom for at least some of their time. There is no alternative if they are to observe and help their colleagues, as well as being observed themselves.

A variant on the second approach is to take the best teachers and send them into schools with serious weaknesses, in order to turn them round. This looks even better, but the parents of the schools which have lost their services might not be too happy about it and the teachers themselves might not wish to be on rescue work indefinitely.

A final version is to provide a way of paying some, but not all, teachers more. By creating a new category of teacher and enhancing the salary level of those who make it, teaching is made a more attractive career, so boosting morale and recruitment. The effectiveness of this depends on the proportion of the teaching force which is routinely expected to achieve the desired status.

There are official references to the idea in the Secretary of State's annual remit letter and the Department for Education and Employment's evidence to the School Teachers' Pay Review Body. The review body has been asked to consider introducing the new grade from September 1998 to allow local authorities to set up pilot posts and provide experience for the introduction of wider arrangements in 1999.

Q.

Are we entitled to insist that all pupils remain on the school site during the lunch break?

A.

In general terms, yes you are, but it is an issue on which it would be sensible to consult with parents. If a parent requests that a pupil should be permitted to return home or to go to a specified place during the break, you might wish to allow the exception. In those circumstances, the parent is accepting responsibility for the pupil and any departure from the agreed arrangement would be a breach of both the school's discipline and the parent's authority.

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