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Fast-track teachers will be recruited at college

AN ELITE squad of 20,000 "superteachers" will be recruited by the Government - most of them before they have started their first teaching job.

Union leaders attacked the plan to take on 1,000 teachers a year who will be fast-tracked through the profession. They said good teachers could not be identified until their ability to perform in the classroom had been proved.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, announced the scheme in a package to introduce performance-related pay for teachers at a cost of pounds 1bn over the next two years.

Fast-track teachers will be recruited from among undergraduates, those on teacher training courses and recently qualified teachers. A minority will be drawn from talented older staff and people in other professions. At present there are 416,000 teachers.

Mr Blunkett said on a visit to Hurlingham and Chelsea secondary school in west London: "It would be taken for granted in other professions that if you were motivated and wanted to get on you could. In teaching people have been held back. We have to break that."

As with fast-track civil servants, fast-track teachers will be selected nationally through a written exam and a residential assessment.

Successful candidates will reach the top of the classroom teacher scale in five instead of seven years and will be given extra support, but will haveto work longer hours and attend courses during the holidays. They will be assigned to schools that apply for a fast-track teacher but will stay only two years before they are moved on to another posting.

Fay Langley, 22, who began teaching at Hurlingham and Chelsea this term, said she would apply. "I want to get on quickly in my career and become a head. I think people who do well and work hard should be recognised." Ms Langley said she had no difficulty with the idea of working extra hours. "I want to be a very good teacher and working very hard is part of the job."

A system of "performance management" has operated for two years at Hurlingham and Chelsea school, which has been turned round after being close to failure five years ago. Pupils' progress is assessed twice a year and teachers are set targets, which are used to help to determine promotion.

Michael Murphy, the head, said a performance-related pay scheme would begin because of government reforms that will enable teachers who have reached the top of the classroom teachers' pay scale to volunteer for a "threshold" test. If they pass, they will get about pounds 2,000 extra and the chance to join a new pay scale and a salary of as much as pounds 35,000.

Mr Murphy denied performance pay was divisive. "It is more divisive to have two teachers paid the same where one is working twice as hard and twice as effectively as the other. Ability should be more important than longevity."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "Teachers need to prove themselves with 11C on Friday afternoon before they can be put on a fast track. These teachers are going to have to be very good indeed if they are going to be put on a pedestal above their more experienced colleagues."

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said the idea that brilliant teachers could be identified before they started their first job was "a banana skin short of bonkers".