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Week in Perspective;Briefing;The week in Education

The Government's drive to create a culture of excellence in schools changed up a gear this week, as it unveiled its plan for a new fast-track scheme for high-flying entrants to teaching.

Its intention to use the scheme to promote a new breed of classroom professional was clear from the opening statement in a new consultation document, A Fast Track for Teachers: "Our children deserve teachers who are focused on excellence, at home with change, determined - and equipped - to get results. We need to recruit teachers who will support this culture and provide future leaders in teaching. Such people have attractive career choices and we must compete to win them," it said.

Would-be high-fliers are to be wooed into teaching with a pound;5,000 bursary, or "golden hello".

Ministers hope that this, coupled with accelerated promotion and bigger annual salary increments, will be enough to attract the brightest graduates with the potential to be future leaders of the profession. Over time, the intention is to recruit up to 5 per cent of teachers through the fast track.

In evidence to the teachers' pay review body yesterday, the Government also gave more details of its proposed performance-related pay scheme. Teachers at the top of their existing pay-scale could qualify for an immediate 10 per cent pay rise if they successfully complete an assessment (see page 5).

These teachers could, depending on performance and responsibilities, then go on to earn up to pound;35,000 a year.

But this week the National Union of Teachers published a report commissioned by an industrial relations expert at the London School of Economics casting doubt on the benefits of such schemes elsewhere in the public sector.

The report concludes performance pay schemes have weakened co-operation between workers, led to lower morale and failed to bring any increase in performance. Teaching would be a particularly difficult profession to apply such schemes to, the report says.

The unions, which want a substantial across-the-board increase as a means of attracting new teachers, have been active in lobbying the Government for a further substantial investment in education.

And it's not just the unions who want more spending. The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, has also been under pressure from ministers - among them David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary - to boost spending in the run-up to the general election.

According to reports this week, he is believed to have a "war chest" of at least pound;12 billion to aid Labour's re-election chances, that could be spent on public services or tax cuts.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, in Harrogate for their annual conference, have a new leader, Charles Kennedy, who is believed to be considering ditching his party's 1997 pledge to raise income tax by up to a penny in the pound to boost education.

But if money for super teachers and hopes of improved funding for schools were high on the public agenda, the topic in many staffrooms was sex.

Legislation making affairs between teachers and pupils illegal, announced by the Home Office, is to go before the Commons this autumn. Teachers who have sex with pupils in their care face a jail sentence of up to two years.

The law will also apply to social workers, youth workers and children's home staff.

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