We prefer classroom to the boardroom

18th March 2005 at 00:00
Pre-threshold: Why the fast-track scheme is helping solve a leadership crisis

When teaching hits the headlines, more often than not it's over falling standards, crippling workloads or pay squabbles. It is hardly surprising then that high-flying graduates are more likely to aspire to the boardroom than the classroom. The Government's fast-track programme is an attempt to change that.

Established in 2000, the programme identifies teachers with high potential, new graduates and career changers, and offers the support and opportunities needed to progress - in the classroom, as advanced skills teachers, and as deputy heads, assistant heads or headteachers.

Recruitment is rigorous. Depending on levels of experience, there are up to six stages in the application process, including school observation, interview and a weekend at an assessment centre (often a hotel). The scheme is open to trainee and qualified teachers.

Anna Wise joined the scheme at the end of her first year in the job. "The two-day assessment centre was particularly intense as I was being observed throughout, which included discussion, in-tray exercises, role play with professionals, a presentation and an interview. It was stressful," she says.

The financial rewards can make it worthwhile. Teachers already qualified when they join (including newly qualified teachers) receive an additional recruitment or retention incentive of pound;2,000 annually. Postgraduate trainee teachers receive pound;5,000 (pound;3,000 at the start of training and pound;2,000 on taking up the first teaching post) in addition to their training bursary of around pound;6,000 (or more for teachers of shortage subjects).

After fast-track training, newly qualified teachers start their first job on at least point 2 of the main scale - a point higher than usual - and can expect to earn at least pound;20, 676 in their first year (more in or near London). After their first year, they receive a recruitment or retention incentive of pound;2,000 a year - on top of the usual steps up the pay scale.

The financial incentives can be particularly attractive to career changers.

Mandi Davis teaches maths at Haydon Bridge high school in Northumberland.

She started teaching three years ago, after more than 15 years in health service management. With a mortgage to pay, she believes it would have been impossible to train as a teacher without fast-track money.

She, too, found recruitment challenging. "I've been through the interview process," she says. "I've interviewed others, led public meetings with politicians, but never have I felt so analysed, so judged against the competition. We were watched and assessed on everything - even how we interacted at the pub.

"The assessment centre was near my house and when it became clear I wouldn't be able to go home all weekend, I started to fret about who was going to feed my cat. I cornered a few of the others in the toilet and asked them to cover for me while I nipped home and fed the cat.

"When I was given the feedback, my absence had been noted, but they applauded my determination and resourcefulness!"

Fast-track teachers have a mentor, usually a senior teacher, and a personal leadership tutor, independent of the school. Both offer support and advice individually. A laptop computer is also provided and they have the opportunity to participate in an exclusive online community where they can network with other fast-track teachers, swap ideas and question important educational figures. They are expected to make a difference in their school from their first year, taking on a particular responsibility with a "wider school focus".

Ms Wise has opted to be gifted and talented co-ordinator. Her brief is to establish a policy that can be implemented across the school, working alongside leadership staff and governors. "Taking on this role has given me a clear idea of where I'm heading. I've realised I'd like to move towards deputy headship, which is definitely the influence of fast track," she says.

According to the Department for Education and Skills, the programme is the first of its kind in the world. Tony Cleaver, a former head and personal leadership tutor on the programme, believes it could provide the answer to the impending leadership crisis.

"One in five teachers leave teaching within five years. If we can't keep teachers, getting good leaders will be harder. Fast track is a great example of how we can grow our own," he says.

Ms Wise agrees, but says there are many misconceptions about it. "I've had to explain to colleagues that it doesn't mean I'm meant to be a 'better'

teacher than them," she says.

More details on www.fasttrackteaching.gov.uk

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