High-flyers' fast track to the top of the class

29th October 1999 at 01:00
With cash incentives and accelerated promotion, the Government hopes to attract top calibre staff into teaching. Phil Revell reports

Students signing up for teacher training next year may be offered pound;5,000 for their trouble and double pay rises for the next five years. But those already embarked on their training, and recently qualified teachers, don't need to kick themselves too hard.

To begin with, those already qualified will make up the majority of those placed on the new fast track for teachers which the Government promises will eventually speed up promotion for 5 per cent of the most able and ambitious teachers. But hitting this jackpot will be tough and the strings attached may be quite daunting.

From next September, undergraduates who want to teach will be able to apply for the fast track teacher training programmes due to start in autumn 2001. Serving teachers who successfully apply will also be expected to take up specially arranged, short-term, high-challenge fast track teaching posts that year.

The idea is clearly designed to make the teaching profession more attractive to high-flyers who might otherwise be tempted away into more lucrative jobs with better training and prospects. The fast track is described in its official prospectus as "a national training programme to recruit, stimulate and support highly talented trainees and serving teachers and offer them clear, rapid career progression".

Government selectors will be looking for leaders with teaching talent, good academic qualifications, the ability to communicate and inspire and the ambition to make a difference to pupils and their schools.

Around 23,000 new teachers are trained each year but, at most, 1,000 fast trackers a year will be recruited before, during or soon after their training or several years later in their careers. Applicants will be expected to provide references and undertake a written examination. The most promising will attend what is described as "an extended residential assessment" based on "the most modern techniques" used by other employers to select high-flyers.

Successful students will receive specially tailored training, though just how this is to be made available throughout the country while maintaining training groups of viable sizes has clearly yet to be worked out. Special teaching modules and training schools may form part of the plan, but the fast track prospectus promises a great deal more.

"Highly talented graduates are fast learners who expect their development to be challenging and stimulating and to equip them for rapid career progress. The quality of support and development in a recruit's first year is a key factor in the success of any fast track scheme.

"While fast track teachers will be classroom practitioners and will need initial training for that role, they can be expected to benefit from more challenging and wide-ranging development linked to equally ambitious objectives for their teaching experience I Fast track initial teacher training will provide this extra dimension while remaining focused and manageable."

The pound;5,000 fast track student teacher bursaries will be paid in stages: pound;1,250 on recruitment, pound;1,250 before completion of the course and pound;2,500 on taking up one of the specially designated fast track teaching jobs. The Government also wants fast-trackers to be awarded an additional salary scale point (worth pound;846 currently) when they start their first job and expects them to earn two increments a year thereafter rather than one (see page 19).

Once trained, fast-trackers will be expected to move through a series of specially arranged teaching posts designed to provide them with wide and challenging experiences in urban and rural areas, in large, small and ethnically diverse schools and with gifted and special needs pupils. They will be expected to work in "our best schools" and to spread "their experience and talents to schools with weaknesses".

If taking responsibility for teaching 30 or more children for the first time is not challenging enough, then fast track jobs are clearly for you. In these, you will also be expected to lead whole-school efforts to reduce truancy, bullying or low achievement among boys, work out how to meet literacy and numeracy targets or to improve the use of computers in classrooms and offices, or develop better relationships with local people and businesses. And you would be expected to show results quickly: two years is expected to be the average length of each contract.

You will also be expected to attend annual summer schools with other fast-trackers and to work towards further professional qualifications. Other support will include programmes offered by the new leadership college being set up by the Government, research opportunities, short placements in other schools or services, international exchanges, mentoring by heads or the new advanced skills teachers and special regional and national events.

The Government says: "This will provide highly talented fast track teachers with the diversity of challenging experiences (backed up with additional professional development and support) that members of a modern profession will expect and demand."

If by now you are thinking "send for Superman" (with the emphasis on man), you may find reassurance in the promise that the programme "will provide for flexibility for those whose circumstances make change difficult - for example, because of family commitments". And while there will be "an unswerving focus on excellence", recruitment will "embrace equal opportunities".

Early experience with the National Professional Qualification for Headteachers, which all teachers aspiring to headship will be required to have from 2002, suggests additional extra-curricular demands in addition to a full teaching programme tend to deter many otherwise well-qualified women.

Selectors will also be keen to ensure ethnic minorities are properly represented on the fast track programme, providing successful role models to pupils.

The proposals for arranging the new special fast track jobs enter unexplored territory. In effect, a national jobs agency for teachers will be set up. Schools will bid to have certain jobs designated, and funded, as fast track appointments. In return, they will expect to receive a selection of fast track applicants for their governors to select from in the usual way. From then on, fast-trackers are expected to earn double increments each year and to reach within five years the threshold to the proposed new pay scale for good teachers rising to pound;35,000 a year.

Contracts will be time limited and teachers' progress will be overseen centrally by the Department for Education and Employment in the first instance, though a separate agency is expected to take over the programme eventually.

A second fast track will operate for experienced teachers beyond the salary threshold. Support will continue for the best who may become pound;45,000 a year advanced skills teachers or take their NPQH early to become headteachers.

Eventually, 5 per cent of the teaching force is expected to be on the fast track. New and trainee teachers should not despair it they are not among that group, however. There will be later opportunities to join the official fast track. And in any case, given that around 43 per cent of teachers are aged over 45 and on a fast track of their own towards retirement, express promotion is likely to be inevitable for rather more that 5 per cent of teachers.

Science and maths - and, next year, modern languages - trainees will continue to attract a pound;5,000 subject shortage training bursary. They will not get another even if they join the fast track.


1 Undergraduates, trainees and serving teachers can apply

2 Selection by written exam and residential assessment

3 Series of challenging two-year teaching posts

4 Summer schools and other professional development

5 Salary threshold reached in five years

6 Best go on to be advanced skills teachers or headteachers

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