Sabbaticals regularly appear on the teachers' conditions of service agenda. But the prospect of periods away from work for study and the recharging of batteries is becoming slightly more firm.
Last year's Green Paper mooted sabbaticals, and early this year the DfEE's discussion paper on continuing professional development again floated the idea. The General Teaching Council has its own proposals and now the Government is understood to be proposing a scheme whereby teachers will fund their own sabbaticals through salary deductions.
For many years, a few teachers have been able to take up places at universities or college, usually for a term, under various trust-funded fellowship schemes. Primary RE teacher Sheila Truelove, for example, spent the summer term this year at Westhill college in Birmingham, studying, by her own choice, the place of the creative arts in RE teaching.
"It gave me the luxury of dedicating myself to a period of study away from the pressures of teaching," she says. "So often as teachers we are isolated within our own schools and can't stand back and see the wider picture."
She came back this term refreshed, motivated and determined to go on and take her master's degree.
Her placement was arranged by the Farmington Institute for Christian Studies, which places teachers in a number of colleges and universities across the country. There are other opportunities, too, such as the school teacher fellowships run by Oxbridge colleges (see page 30).
Janice Gibson, assistant principal at John Leggott sixth form college in Scunthorpe, for instance, had a term at Merton college, Oxford, studying and visiting schools and colleges in the south of England, looking at pastoral care systems. "It was a real battery charger, and a very different experience," she says.
Every teacher who has had study leave feels that it should be more generally available. For Sheila Truelove it was her first real study period away from the classroom in 20 years' teaching. She believes it should be an entitlement for all teachers who have had a decent period of service.
Continuing professional development is the key here. The Government wants to give career-long coherence to the way that teachers have in-service training - CPD will be the context for any study leave or sabbatical arrangements. Study leave will be organised to fit into the larger picture of the teacher's overall career plan, and will have to benefit not only the teacher but also the school.
Hence a straightforward system of funded sabbatical terms for all teachers linked to length of service seems unlikely. Sarah Stephens, policy adviser at the GTC, points out that too rigid a system would not easily fit the idea that a teacher should broaden his or her professionalism in a range of different ways.
"We're thinking it shouldn't be formulaic," she says. "We have to consider equality of opportunity for one thing - bearing in mind teachers who can't take advantage of what's on offer because of family commitments.
"Perhaps the answer is to have modules that add up to the same value but can be taken in different ways."
The DfEE already hints at this. Its CPD document mentions a range of out-of-school options, including teacher exchanges and business placements.
And GTC chief executive Carol Adams, expanding on her reported support for sabbaticals, speaks of "mentoring, peer networks, teacher exchanges and business placements".
There's an assumption in this debate that other countries are more generous with study leave. But this depends on the definition. Across Europe it's relativly common for teachers to have an entitlement to a number of days, or hours, of training - 104 hours a year in Sweden, for example, 150 hours in Italy, 28 days in Poland. Many UK teachers will have at least as much training as that. The point, though, is that in other countries it is an entitlement, not therefore dependent on the school budget.
But when it comes to what we would call sabbaticals - periods of long leave granted by right after a number of years of service - there is often some cost to the teacher who, in effect, saves up for the leave through salary deductions.
That's the case in Australia, where the scheme is self-funding. Teachers pay into a trust fund, which enables them to have a year's leave either every three years at two-thirds salary, or every five years at 80 per cent of salary. Canada has a similar system, and the UK government is thought to be leaning in the same direction.
Israel is rather more generous - teachers pay 4 per cent of salary towards a sabbatical every six years, with the government adding another 8 per cent. They then have two-thirds of their salary during their sabbatical year, which has to be spent on a course matched to their existing qualifications.
Wholly or partially self-funded schemes are commonly given extra value by tax advantages - payments into the fund may be tax deductible, for example, and in Israel the sabbatical year salary itself is tax-free.
Any attempt to introduce a self-funded scheme in the UK is likely to meet strong opposition. The feeling of the teachers' associations, expressed in the wake of the Government's proposal for teachers to have personal professional development accounts to which they might themselves contribute, is that teachers here already spend enough of their time and money on professional development, and that the lion's share should be borne by the Government.
There is also the issue of supply cover - always the biggest cost of any in-service initiative. In Israel, the ministry provides a replacement teacher. In this country the cost devolves on the school unless it can be covered by the training provider.
But problems aside, it's clear that there is real movement from the Government on encouraging and enabling teachers to engage in professional development outside school. As well as proposals about study leave, plans are already in place for 2,600 more teachers a year to be given the opportunity to take part in study visits and exchanges abroad through the Teachers' International Professional Development programme (TIPD is being run for the DfEE by the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges). Flexibility, it seems, and the need to suit the various circumstances of the institutions and individuals, may conspire to give us a modular system where "sabbatical" means anything from a term at university to a series of non-teaching days in a teacher's own school.
It will be a major step forward if this becomes an entitlement. At the same time, some will regret that not all teachers will be able to have at least several weeks in quieter surroundings. As Sheila Truelove says: "If you're only going to be away for a day at a time, it will be hard - the teaching comes with you."
Farmington Institute for Christian Studies, Harris Manchester College, Oxford OX1 3TT. Tel: 01865 271965.Fax: 01865 271969.Tutorial secretary, Merton College, Oxford OX1 4JD Tel: 01865 276310.The TIDP scheme is run through local authority co-ordinators - ask the authority if your school has not heard anything. Details can be found on the British Council website at www.britishcouncil.org under "Education".Copies of Professional Development: support for teaching and learning from DfEE Publications, tel: 0845 6022260. E-mail: email@example.com