Zones of contention

Where are all the exciting, well-paid jobs that education action zones were supposed to bing? Anat Arkin reports

Launched as a "fundamental challenge to the status quo", education action zones were expected to produce new kinds of job opportunities for teachers. The Government urged the public-private sector partnerships bidding to set up zones to come up with radical new ideas for attracting "the very best" headteachers and teachers, possibly by opting out of national arrangements for teachers' pay and conditions.

But judging by the first 25 successful bids, most EAZs have no plans to abandon national pay and conditions, and only four have said they would appoint advanced skills teachers, who can earn up to Pounds 40,000 a year. These four include the Newham EAZ in east London, which expects to create up to 12 posts at the new grade.

Several other zones are planning to release successful classroom teachers to work across the zone. Advanced skills teachers in all but name and salary, they will have the chance to develop their own careers at the same time as supporting colleagues in other schools.

Chris Platt, assistant director of education for Trafford education authority, one of the partners in the Salford and Trafford EAZ, which intends to use secondments to spread good practice, points out that governing bodies making senior appointments often look for people with experience of working in several schools. "The whole role of middle and senior managers has changed, and there is now more focus on achievement," he says. "So someone who has been seconded for 12 months, say, to help a school or schools in a particular area, would gain quite a lot of skills that would be very useful to them."

Another zone that is planning to give good practitioners the chance to take on temporary advisory roles is the New Addington Schools' Partnership EAZ in Croydon, south London.

"With advisory services being cut back by local authorities, there hasn't been the scope recently for the sorts of secondments into the advisory service that there were at one time," says Linda Sokoloff, head of Rowdown primary school, one of the nine schools in the zone. "We hope this will give our teachers an additional string to their bow."

The New Addington Partnership wants to use zone funding to appoint two full-time supply teachers to cover for seconded teachers, who will receive extra salary points during these periods. The zone will also be developing a career structure for classroom assistants and appointing an information technology technician. But with an initial life span of just three years, the zone is keeping the number of new appointments to a minimum.

The short life expectancy of the zones could also be having an adverse effect on recruiting managers. There are also signs that the salaries being offered for co-ordinating the work of up to 20 schools may need to be raised. The Newcastle Education Achievement Zone recently re-advertised for a project director at a salary of around Pounds 52,000, after its initial advertisement offering Pounds 47,000 to Pounds 52,000 failed to attract enough strong candidates.

"We were looking for someone with a mixture of senior-management experience in school, project-management experience and significant links with business - and I have to say that was in very short supply," remarks Roger Edwardson, assistant director of education at Newcastle City Council.

While the Newcastle zone's ideal candidate would be an experienced headteacher willing to take a three-year secondment, other zones hope to attract senior teachers who see the temporary zone manager's role as a stepping stone to a permanent headship.

Chris Platt of the Salford and Trafford EAZ, which is offering a modest Pounds 41,046 to Pounds 42,609, says: "We have pitched the salary at a level which we think would attract primary heads, senior managers in high schools and people with senior experience in an LEA. Whether we will attract people with that salary, I don't know. We'll have to wait and see."

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