Rewarded for staying in class

23rd February 1996 at 00:00

TES correspondents report on two countries which are trying to encourage a new breed of 'super teachers'

More than 50,000 Australian teachers have been promoted to advanced skills teaching positions over the past five years.

The innovative AST scheme was introduced in 1991 as the first major attempt by Australian politicians to keep the nation's top teachers in the classroom.

Under the scheme, the most experienced and expert teachers have the option of staying with their students, rather than seeking promotion out of the classroom as principals or deputy principals. They are also rewarded by pay rises that boost their salaries above that of their peers.

Another goal was that AST appointees would take on leadership functions, becoming co-ordinators of curriculum or professional development activities, as well as acting as mentors and role models to younger teachers.

The decision by state, territory and federal education ministers to establish the AST system in 1989 was the first time agreement had been reached on a national classification programme for exceptional teachers. The federal government, which had promoted the idea as part of a restructuring arrangement with the trade unions, offered the states and territories cash to meet the additional salary costs involved.

A Labor government in Victoria was first to put the AST scheme in place in 1990; it established a three-stage classification system with AST1, AST2 and AST3 positions being advertised. Initially, no quotas were placed on appointments to AST1 positions, the lowest category, and 15,000 teachers were eventually awarded the title and a $1,200 (Pounds 600) pay increase.

But cost implications meant that limits had to be imposed on the numbers who could be promoted to the other two categories.

Several other states, seeing what had happened in Victoria, decided to create only one AST class and to also set quotas. A senior official with the Australian Education Union and former president of the Victorian Secondary Teachers Association, Brian Henderson, said he believed introduction of the AST system had been highly successful, even though implementation of the scheme varied widely among the states.

Mr Henderson said anecdotal evidence indicated that the best teachers in schools were applying for AST positions and being appointed.

But Lawrence Ingvarson, a senior lecturer in education at Monash University in Melbourne, described the scheme as a splendid concept which had failed because it had been introduced badly. In New South Wales, for example, the state education department created 7,000 AST positions but then tied them to hard-to-staff schools as a way of encouraging experienced teachers to move.

"The state education systems tried to manipulate the scheme to solve their own problems and did not set up valid evaluation processes or a valid set of teaching standards," Mr Ingvarson said. "Bureaucrats under-estimated the work needed to develop standards and ways of evaluating teacher performance. "

He said the basis of the scheme was to provide extra pay for better work, not just for extra work as is customary under the career structures available to most Australian teachers. But teacher unions had resisted the introduction of performance appraisal and used the scheme largely as a means of achieving pay rises for a significant proportion of their members.

"You need an outside professional body to evaluate teacher performance and give them a stamp of approval. There is simply not the expertise in schools to do that properly," Mr Ingvarson said.

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