Incentives and pay will make them stay

19th September 1997 at 01:00
So David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, is to create a new "superteacher" to help raise status and morale in the profession and to persuade the best, most experienced teachers who are leaving in droves to stay. That's only marginally more sensible than the plan to reward so-called "excellent" heads through the honours list.

Mr Blunkett wants to keep these "superteachers" by asking them to take on more responsibilities like, for example, the training of new, young teachers. Yet we're told that the extra Pounds 835 million made available for education's share of the national cake is not to be used for large salary increases.

Once teachers become heads of big departments in core subjects such as English, maths and science, they quickly reach the top of their salary scales.

There they sit in the knowledge that, until they retire, unless they leave and become deputy heads and heads, they will never have another pay rise higher than the cost of living increase awarded to all other teachers whenever pay is reviewed.

The only move that heads of departments and other experienced teachers can make if they're at all ambitious for more money or status is by leaving the classroom. They stop doing what they do best, what they get their buzz from, and they become administrators and managers - jobs for which they are rarely trained. You only have to look at the appalling heads around in some schools today to see how true this is.

Good teachers sell themselves every time they stand in front of a class: really good, energetic, lively teachers can get pupils to do almost anything.

Experienced teachers with the courage to say, "That's it, I still enjoy what I do in the classroom, but all the peripheral crap outweighs that satisfaction, so I'm out of here", are the very teachers the profession can least afford to lose - and yet, it would seem, can't afford to keep.

These are the teachers who should be given the incentive to stay in the classroom and in the profession - not those who cruise towards retirement, who are part of the senior management team, chosen by the head and still matey, who command considerably higher salaries than many of their more deserving colleagues because they are the longest serving.

Weak heads often surround themselves with weak people. They form a log-jam at the top of schools, effectively blocking the way for more dynamic teachers who can only bank up behind them.

How does Mr Blunkett propose to identify his outstanding teachers? Rely on heads as experts? And how is he going to ensurethat a decent share of the best qualified students go into teaching? He might be interested to know what I advise my best students if they tell me they're considering it: don't.

If he is serious about trying to keep good, innovative, experienced teachers in the profession, he has to be prepared to throw some money at them to give a real incentive to stay.

Asking them to slog their guts out so that their heads can get knighthoods isn't the answer.

The author is head of English in a Berkshire` girls' school

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