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You shall go to the ball (or Goa)

The Government is playing fairy godmother with its latest professional development scheme. Jill Parkin reports.

If your lesson plans are all dusty old friends and an Inset day is a big event, your teaching obviously needs a fairy godmother with a big wand, a pumpkin and pound;1,000 tucked in her bodice.

"Stuff the pumpkin," says the Cinderella of the classroom. "How do I get the cash?" "Not so fast," says the fairy godmother, who, you suddenly notice, has short arms and long pockets. "What's the magic word?"

"Professional development," guesses the teacher wildly.

"Not enough," says the fairy godmother. "You have to fill in a claim form by midnight." At 11.59pm, teacher whacks in the application and gleefully seizes the wad that will rejuvenate her teaching.

Well, more or less. Teachers in the fourth and fifth years of their careers are now eligible for a pound;500 professional development bursary. They can apply in both years, bringing the haul up to pound;1,000. The Government's pilot scheme, which ended in March, was deemed a success, and the programme will now run until the end of March 2004.

There are no hard and fast rules on how the money should be spent, as long as it is used to meet your "professional development needs". So you could buy materials, attend courses, travel abroad, work as a shadow, or arrange guest speakers.

Bursaries can be shared with colleagues, allowing you to hire speakers and halls and, if it means your absence during teaching time, to pay for supply cover. (Bursaries can also be used to meet childcare, travel and subsistence costs.) Or you can be more adventurous, like two colleagues from Ashington education action zone who took part in the pilot scheme by travelling to Goa in India to set up inter-school links.

A Hereford history teacher went on a three-day course run by the Holocaust Education Trust, which included a visit to Auschwitz. Three colleagues from Northumberland pooled their money to spend a day improving their 3-D arts skills with an artist, who then reciprocated with two days in school working with the children.

Language teachers used the money to visit foreign schools and improve their conversational skills. Bursaries can also be used to buy computer software, but not hardware. They are available to teachers, advanced skills teachers, fast-track teachers, assistant heads and deputy heads.

Experience gained through a bursary can be useful when working towards the threshold. It's worth discussing with a colleague or your head how you might spend your money in a way that fits in with the school development plan and well as your personal plans. The scheme requires headteacher approval, so it's best to let him or her in on it from the start.

You need to say on your form how your chosen activity will benefit you by improving your subject knowledge or leadership and management skills; by boosting your longer term career; or in some other way. All good practice for filling in the threshold form.

If you decide to spend your money on computer software, don't rush out and stock up before you've checked that it will be approved. The list of excluded software includes mainstream packages such as Adobe Photoshop and Office 2000. Other, more esoteric packages, such as Music Resource, Dreamweaver and Office 2000 Curriculum, get the thumbs-up.

You need to produce invoices and paid bills along with your claim form: invoices from whoever provides your training or trip, and bills for anything you have bought. The money is then paid directly into your bank account. This means you need to clear in advance that your activity will be eligible. You can do this by calling the professional bursary helpline on 0845 039 0208. It is advisable to approach the school governing body for any payments that need to be made in advance.

Whatever form of development you choose, keep a written record of the experience. If it's a day seminar, write a report including a summary, questions, and ideas on how you might apply it to your work. If it's a trip abroad, keep a journal. It's all too easy to have a great experience, then lose the benefit when you return to school.

A written report will be useful when it comes to future job applications, as well as threshold applications. It will also enable you to share your new-found knowledge and ideas with colleagues. Ask the head if you can give a half-hour presentation to staff.

The scheme complements the early professional development pilot scheme for teachers in their second and third years. For more details and an application form, visit: www.teachernet.gov.ukbursaries. For more ideas on the sort of activity that might help your professional development, read the General Teaching Council's booklet Professional Learning Framework at: www.gtce.org.ukgtcinfoplf.asp

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