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Wisdom for sale - pound;50,000 a go

Headteachers invited to lead the pioneering Beacon Schools Project have expressed mixed feelings about their role as keepers of the flame of educational best practice at the scheme's launch.

Heads and governors from 176 schools singled out for special praise by the Office for Standdards in Education were invited to apply for beacon status and share the secrets of their success last week.

But heads warned it could "kill the goose that lays the golden eggs" by taking their best teachers out of the classroom to train other teachers. Some feared the scheme would be divisive and strain vital relationships with neighbouring schools and believed the direct relationship between beacon schools and the Department for Education and Employment could threaten the role of local authorities (see right).

Some even said that their inclusion on chief inspector Chris Woodhead's list had already damaged their relationships with neighbouring schools.

The headteachers, who will all be invited to apply to be one of the 100 schools piloting the scheme, welcomed the promise of up to pound;50,000 extra for each participating school but were concerned over demands it could place on their staff.

Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, unveiled the pound;1.8 million proposals to the headteachers and governors, who had attended a London conference thinking they were only there to receive certificates marking their Ofsted success.

They were surprised to find themselves made cogs in the Government's policy-making machine for an afternoon, as they were thrust into workshops on how the beacon proposals should be implemented.

The beacon-school network will be made up of centres of excellence committed to raising standards, and will be listed on the Internet.

Some of this came as a surprise to those delegates who had left home too early to have heard the news announcing the plan.

Many had to be summoned from discussion groups to take calls from their anxious deputies besieged by questions from press, parents and pupils at school.

Much is still to be decided about the proposals, and heads and governors were put to work on the thorny issues of what should make a beacon school, how they should be selected and what they should offer.

What was certain was that they will be paid up to pound;50,000 to develop a strategy to share their expertise. They will then charge other schools for a slice of their wisdom.

But time is short as the Government wants a pilot scheme to begin in September. All 176 schools will receive sample contracts this week with a menu of proposals from which they can select, or suggest their own.

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