Teachers in England can apply for six-week sabbaticals this term in a state-funded scheme that will benefit more than 4,000 staff in some of the most challenging schools, writes Phil Revell.
Teachers will continue to be paid while on sabbatical, a departure from the scheme announced last year, when the Department for Education and Skills seemed to expect staff to pay their own way.
The pound;25 million initiative will allow teachers to carry out research, follow a programme of study or work on community projects. The scheme's administrators can expect some creative interpretations of "personal development", as the rules merely state that the sabbatical should "enhance teachers' learning and effectiveness" and bring "benefits to pupils and their school". Funding is routed through education authorities and will only be available to teachers who have worked in "challenging" schools for five years or more. In this instance, the label will apply to schools where at least 50 per cent of pupils qualify for free meals.
At least one place per school is available over the next three years, though teachers could share a sabbatical. The DFES has said that pound;6,000 per sabbatical is available, mainly for supply cover.
Although many teachers will welcome the scheme it does not bear comparison with the sabbaticals available in Australia, where public-service employees are entitled to extended leave after 10 years' service.
"This is potentially an important part of teachers' professional development," said John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association. "But the scheme currently on offer is too narrow, it should be extended as soon as possible."
However, Mike Emmot, a policy adviser with the Chartered Institute of Personnel, supports the scheme, saying: "It will be worth more than pay to the individuals affected."
The sabbaticals are part of a pound;92m professional development initiative, announced in March, that will also provide 1,000 teachers with pound;3,000 scholarships to research best practice in Britain.