Young teachers in London are complaining of receiving little support on a scheme designed to promote high-flyers quickly into leadership roles. The Fast Track programme, run by the National College of School Leadership, is intended to solve the looming recruitment crisis for headteachers.
Catherine Sheppard, 25, joined before starting her PGCE in 2005. She had a pound;5,000 cash incentive to train, a laptop and the promise of an enhanced salary. But she said she had gained little else from the scheme, which aims to get teachers into senior roles within five years.
In her first year of teaching at Enfield Grammar, she said she received only a single face-to-face visit from her Fast Track personal learning tutor and attended one networking event. She said several attempts to contact Fast Track about her training entitlements via its hotline were to no avail.
Miss Sheppard's comments were echoed by another north London Fast Tracker in the fourth year of the scheme. He described his termly sessions with his personal learning tutor as "banal".
"It is a case of 'How are you?' 'I'm fine.' 'Have you asked for a promotion yet?' " he said. "I've been going through that for four years. It's ridiculous." He has now decided to leave the profession.
This month, Miss Sheppard was one of around 30 teachers in north London sent an email apologising for the lack of a personal Fast Track tutor in their area this term. Two people had trained to take on the job, but resigned before they started.
She said: "It is billed as something special, and the selection procedure is really strict. But as far as I can tell, it's nothing more than PR."
Miss Sheppard was among the last trainees to be accepted on to the programme before it was refashioned in 2005 as a leadership programme for qualified teachers.
Cash incentives for training and other sweeteners to attract recruits were abolished to reduce costs.
The scheme was launched in 2001 and by 2006 had cost pound;44.5 million. There are now 1,900 Fast Trackers in schools and 194 have progressed to formal leadership roles.
The NCSL which oversees the scheme said that for the first three years, participants could only expect two face-to-face visits and a telephone call each year from their personal tutor. It said a new personal tutor had been appointed for Miss Sheppard's area and that her headteacher and in-school mentor would have received a training CD-ROM and handbook.
Melanie Hunter, Fast Track's senior programme manager, said the scheme had achieved its aims and provided participants with a "highly personalised blend of professional development support".
The NCSL said the format would be changing again in August 2008. It was unable to say how much it cost, because such information was commercially sensitive.