'Recognition with only three years to go ... I cried'

12th March 2004 at 00:00
AST is a chance for promotiom without leaving the classroom

If you want to stay in the classroom, becoming an advanced skills teacher is a financially attractive and interesting alternative to climbing the management ladder. The salary is good, ranging from pound;30,501 to pound;44,657 across the country - in London, it goes from pound;36,594 to pound;54,747.

The main requirement is to be an top-class teacher in your own school and, one day a week, to share your practice with other teachers and schools.

However, the assessment process for becoming what used to be called a superteacher is rigorous. You have to demonstrate excellence against all six AST standards, which cover your pupils' results, your subject andor specialist knowledge, your ability to plan, teach and manage pupils while maintaining discipline, your ability to assess and evaluate as well as your ability to advise and support other teachers. That's a tall order to meet.

Satisfying such diverse criteria sounds exhausting but it is possible.

First, contact the person co-ordinating ASTs in your local education authority, then fill in the application form detailing the evidence of your ability. Your headteacher also has to comment.

Florence Wilson, head of St Jude's primary in Herne Hill, south London, where two teachers have gained AST status, says she found it hard to write succinctly about what was pertinent - there was so much she could say.

All applicants have a day's assessment, organised by Westminster Education Consultants (now part of the Vosper Thorneycroft group). Having an external assessor for a day is like having your own personalised inspection.

The assessor looks at your portfolio of documentation, observes two lessons, and conducts interviews with you, the head, a group of pupils, some parents and other staff. You choose the lessons that are observed and can brief the people whom the assessor will interview. Everyone in school needs to pull together to show the assessor how super you are. Some teachers have described the assessment day as "hellish" and "mega-stressful", but generally they agree it is rigorous and fair.

Carolyn Baxendale, a peripatetic music teacher in Bolton, says that, in hindsight, it was actually enjoyable. "I had an in-depth interview and the whole process gave me an opportunity to show what I was doing and discuss the impact of my work on different schools and how instrumental it was to the teachers."

You need to relate to the assessor as a fellow professional - engage in a healthy dialogue. Collect information on pupil progress over the past three years. Martin Flatman, AST project manager at Westminster Education Consultants, advises people to present data in a form they understand and can explain. Many people offer graphs and tables that someone has told them show that their pupils have achieved well but which they themselves don't understand. Consider pupil progress in terms of self-esteem and confidence as well as things that can be easily tested.

Obviously, not all aspects of the job lend themselves to written evidence, so make sure that the observations and interviews cover those.

Demonstrating how you support other teachers can be tricky. As well as listing people, give examples of how specific help you have given has made individuals more effective. Ask them to tell the assessor about this.

You choose the lessons that the assessor watches so make sure you can demonstrate excellence in them. Secondary teachers might feel tempted to choose the best behaved and highest- attaining classes, but those aren't always the groups that allow people to show off the most exciting teaching and learning.

Don't feel that you need to follow your plan slavishly. Show excellence in how you handle pupils' questions and answers and work with their ideas and misconceptions, and, if that means deviating from your plan, so be it.

Don't worry if things go wrong; it's another opportunity for you to demonstrate more skills. When I was assessing in a special school, a disturbed 17-year-old was having his worst day in years. He threw a pair of scissors across the room, narrowly missing the heads of eight other students. The teacher calmly caught them with one hand without interrupting the flow of her lesson - amply demonstrating her advanced teaching skills.

At the end of the day, assessors give their judgments to you in a face-to-face interview. In about nine out of 10 cases, the outcome is positive. Anne French, a nursery teacher from Heathbrook primary school in Lambeth, south London, remembers it being an emotional occasion. "The assessor told me I was excellent in everything. It's the only time anyone's said that. It was wonderful, especially at that stage of my career - I was three years away from retirement. I cried!"

* Sara Bubb (s.bubb@ioe.ac.uk) is an AST assessor. Her latest book, Leading and Managing Continuing Professional Development, is published by SagePaul Chapman, pound;18.99l For further information, visit www.teachernet.gov.ukprofessionaldevelopmentopportunitiesast

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