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Superteachers: the views of teachers and headteachers on the introduction of the

‘SUPERTEACHERS’ :

SHARING EXCELLENCE OR DIVIDING PROFESSIONALS ?

The views of teachers and headteachers on the Advanced Skills Teacher grade

 

David Blake

Vince Hanley

Mike Jennings

Michele Lloyd

 

School of Education

University College, Chichester

Paper presented at the British Education Research Association Annual Conference, University of Sussex at Brighton,

September 2-5th 1999

 

David Blake is Dean of the Faculty of Education and Social Studies at University College Chichester

Dr. Vince Hanley is Head of the Crawley Centre for Teacher Education at University College Chichester

Mike Jennings is Principal Lecturer in Primary Education at University College Chichester, and Director of the Excellence in Teaching Research Project

Michele Lloyd is a Doctoral research student in the School of Education at University College Chichester

 

Address for correspondence :

Mike Jennings
School of Education
University College Chichester
Bognor Regis Campus
Upper Bognor Rd.
Bognor Regis West Sussex  PO21 1HR
Phone : 01243-816256
E-mail : M.Jenning@chihe.ac.uk

 

ABSTRACT

This paper reports on teachers’ views on the concept of and proposals for the Government’s Advanced Skills Teacher initiative and related issues such as the notion of excellence, performance related pay, fast tracking, motivation and teachers’career development.

Data was collated and analysed from two sources : 800 returns from a large scale postal questionnaire survey of primary and secondary teachers and Headteachers in the Southern region which took place in June 1998 ; and follow up interviews in Spring/Summer 1999 with a representative sample of 20 of the questionnaire respondents who had indicated their willingness to be involved in further exploration of teachers’ perspectives on new initiatives.

The questionnaire responses indicate that nearly two thirds of the respondents are opposed to the concept of the Advanced Skills Teacher and critical of the lack of detail in the proposals and how the scheme will work in practice, feeling that it will lead to division rather than team and school development ; there were, though, interesting differences in the depth of opposition or support according to respondents’ experience and status in the profession. The interview responses illuminate grass roots perspectives further, identifying a variety of doubts, uncertainties and sometimes conflicting beliefs about the values and likely success of current education initiatives.

1. The context for the research

The introduction of the Advanced Skills Teacher (AST) grade was proposed in the 1997 White Paper Excellence in Schools (Cmnd 3681). The Advanced Skills Teacher proposal was based on the assumption that skilled, experienced teachers are the key asset of schools. Advanced Skills Teachers, the White Paper contended, would not only provide the best quality education for pupils but also help colleagues by sharing their expert knowledge and skills. Advanced Skills Teachers would not leave the classroom as a result of gaining promotion. The proposal was designed to reward high quality teaching skills per se. Advanced Skills Teachers, it was argued, have a key role in raising standards through their support of trainee and newly qualified teachers.

The Government asked the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) to make recommendations about the introduction of the new grade, the functions of ASTs, how and where they should be established and how they should be selected. The STRB came forward with proposals in March 1998. Essentially the STRB accepted the guidance it had received from the DfEE in December 1997. The STRB recommended that the new grade be established from September 1998, and that the main duty of the AST would be classroom teaching, though they might spend up to 20 per cent of their time on outreach work.The limits on the working time of classroom teachers would not apply to ASTs. Additional duties which might apply to the ASTs were summarised as :

  • participation in ITT and mentoring newly qualified teachers

  • advising other teachers on classroom organisation and teaching methods

  • producing high quality teaching materials

  • disseminating best practice and educational research to colleagues

  • advising on in-service training

  • participating in the appraisal of other teachers

  • helping teachers experiencing difficulties

  • work on an outreach basis in other schools

The STRB proposed that, initially, most AST posts would be established in schools in Educational Action Zones (EAZs) and in specialist schools willing to sponsor such posts. From September 1999 it was expected that the grade would be more widely used, although the DfEE was extremely cautious about the possibility of additional funding for the new grade. Significantly for many of those concerned at the proposals, the AST grade was seen as relevant only to a minority of teachers.

A two stage process of AST selection was set out. For September 1998 it was suggested that aspiring ASTs would be evaluated by inspectors recruited especially for that purpose. In the longer term it was suggested that aspiring ASTs might present themselves at regional assessment centres where they would be judged against a national standard. Once the standard had been achieved, aspirant ASTs would be eligible to apply for advertised AST posts.

The STRB’s further recommendations were that statutory professional duties be developed for ASTs ; that the working time provisions for classroom teachers would not apply ; that ASTs be appointed to a pay scale of five consecutive points on a proposed 27 point pay scale running from 25200 to 40200, placing them alongside Headteachers and Deputies at the high point of the scale ; that ASTs’ performance be reviewed annually against nationally determined performance criteria ; and that there should continue to be consultation between the DfEE and interested parties about the development of the AST grade.

The proposals drew a furious response from all the teacher and headteacher unions. The tone of response is well represented by the 2 March news release from the National Union of Teachers (NUT 1998) which argued that :

‘schools are dependent on a highly qualified, motivated team working as one. ASTs are a potentially divisive imposition’

For the NASUWT, the Government was seen as adopting a :

‘sticking-plaster approach’ which would do little to motivate and reward good classroom teaching (NASUWT 1998).

In similar vein, the press release of the Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) argued that schools already had heads and deputy heads to develop and spread good practice in schools. It argued further that rewarding a small minority of ASTs would not attract new recruits to the profession. PAT’s view was that emphasis should be placed on developing good salary levels for all teachers (PAT 1998).

The National Association of Headteachers criticised the proposals for :

‘…failing to guarantee the preservation of salary differentials with headteachers, failing to find new money for school budgets to fund a worthwhile scheme and failing to recognise that there are many more good teachers in schools than could be covered by the new grade’ (NAHT 1998).

The Secondary Heads Association also felt that the proposals threatened the role and leadership status of heads and might diminish the pool of candidates coming forward for headships. The essence of the SHA’s objection to the scheme, however, was the idea that a very small proportion of the teaching force could sensibly be singled out as exceptionally effective. The SHA argued that :

‘there are many more teachers of high quality than the number of AST posts which could conceivably be created’ (SHA 1998).

The widely shared view, therefore, among the teacher and headteacher unions was that the proposed new grade would be divisive, would not attract bright new recruits to the classroom and would not contribute to the Government’s reform agenda of raising educational standards.

By July 1998 the first AST had been appointed at a grant-maintained comprehensive school (Daily Mail 25 July 1998). By October Mike Baker reported for the Times Education Supplement (30 October 1998) that the first 50 superteachers had been ‘unleashed on schools’, all of them in the secondary sector. In The Times in November 1998 Michael Chapman of Westminster Educational Consultants outlined his company’s role in the initial assessment of superteachers. Meanwhile David Blunkett indicated that he expected ‘to go very much further’ along the AST road (TES, 30 October 1998), looking forward to the eventual establishment of some 5000 posts. By late November 1998 the Secretary of State was able to point to the appointment of the first 100 ASTs, note that two-thirds of LEAs had plans in place to introduce the grade and confirm the target of 5000 AST posts within two years (Blunkett 1998).

2. The ‘Excellence in Teaching Research Project’

In May 1998 a group of tutors in the School of Education at University College Chichester (formerly Chichester Institute of HE) established the ‘Excellence in Teaching Research Project’ (ETRP) designed to investigate policy, practice and perceptions in relation to the concept of excellence in teaching. As its first survey focus, the project team decided to undertake a detailed examination of the concept and policy implications of the Government’s AST proposal by undertaking a large scale survey of teachers’ views of the initiative. Among areas for investigation in later phases of the project are the impact individual ASTs have been having on their schools, and an examination of the comparative, international dimension, surveying policy initiatives and teacher reactions in Europe, Australia and the USA. The research reported here is an analysis of :

The questionnaire was structured to elicit views about both the principle of the new AST grade and the detailed recommendations for its implementation, and was designed explicitly around the STRB proposals of March 1998. Respondents were asked to : respond to specific questions on a four-point scale, along a strongly agree/agree/disagree/strongly disagree axis ; make any further comments on the proposals if they wished to ; and indicate whether or not they would be willing to take part in a follow-up interview. The questionnaire was developed, trialled and administered in April and May 1998. Respondents’ schools were located across eight LEAs in the Southern region, the area in which the great majority of the Institute’s ITE Partnership schools are located : Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, Southampton, West Sussex, East Sussex, Brighton and Hove, and Surrey. 3000 questionnaires were sent to around 500 schools in these Southern counties. Six questionnaires were sent to each school in June 1998, and we asked for one to be completed by the Headteacher, one by the Deputy, and the other four by any member of staff. A business reply envelope was included for each respondent, and a covering letter - explaining the reasons for the survey, how the questionnaire was to be completed and thanking respondents for taking part - was enclosed. 800 completed questionnaires were returned, a response rate of 26.5 per cent.

The Advanced Skills Teacher Survey : responses to the questionnaire

3.1 The Respondents

Table 1 : Age-phase sector and category of respondents

Category

Primary

Secondary

Prim + Sec

Missing*

TOTAL

Headteachers

113

40

6

-

159

Deputy headteachers

81

49

1

-

131

Senior teachers

17

70

0

-

87

Classteachers

273

100

2

-

375

TOTAL

484

259

9

48

800

* Position not stated

Table 2 : Respondents’ length of experience in the teaching profession

Length of experience in teaching

% of respondents

0 - 4 years

13

5 - 9 years

13

10+ years

74

Table 3 : Respondents’ gender

 

Primary

Secondary

Primary & Secondary

Male

18%

53%

44%

Female

82%

47%

56%

Comment

We included these three categories because we were interested in the numbers and perspectives of the various categories of teachers who might respond, and wanted to see whether or not, for example, experienced/senior teachers had different views to younger, less experienced ones, or there was a primary/secondary divide, or divergence in male/female views.

3.2 The principle of the AST grade

This part of the questionnaire was designed to elucidate respondents’ views on the principle of the AST proposal, and the likelihood of success for the Government’s objectives in introducing the new grade. Table 4 indicates the outcome.

Table 4 : Respondents’ views on the likely contribution of the AST grade to meeting

Government objectives

Do you agree that the proposal will meet the Government’s objectives of :

 

Strongly agree

Agree

Disagree

Strongly disagree

1. attracting more able people into teaching

2

32

54

12

2. raising standards in education by retaining excellent teachers in the classroom

12

52

39

8

3. reducing wastage of high quality eachers from the profession

9

42

40

9

4. raising standards by deploying excellent teachers to help other teachers

10

54

28

8

5. improving the career and pay prospects of the best teachers

14

53

25

8

Comment

Two thirds responding to the first question were clearly doubtful that the AST initiative would attract more able people into the profession (66%-34%). Many commented that the need was to increase the starting salary and extend the top of the scale for all teachers, not just the 5% the AST grade was aimed at :

The conditions of service of all teachers need improvement, and a scheme such as the AST is inappropriate, divisive and difficult to administer (Secondary Head)

The majority, however, did agree with the suggestions that the initiative would raise standards by retaining excellent teachers in the classroom (64%-47%), that deploying excellent teachers to help other teachers would also be beneficial (64%-36%), and that it would improve the career and pay prospects of the best teachers (67%-33%) :

I support the idea that ASTs are not lost to the classroom, but should share their knowledge and expertise with colleagues. Raising standards of teaching will, in turn, give better education for pupils. At the moment, highly experienced teachers are not rewarded for their expertise, knowledge or dedication to the profession (Primary classteacher)

There were almost evenly divided views, though, on whether or not the AST proposal would help to reduce the wastage rate in the profession (51%-49%), though a majority was just in favour.

3.3 Potential difficulties foreseen

We moved on to test views on possible problems respondents felt there might be with the introduction of the AST scheme. Table 5 summarises the outcome.

Table 5 : Respondents’ views on potential difficulties associated with the AST grade

Do you agree the proposals will lead to :

 

Strongly agree

Agree

Disagree

Strongly disagree

1. a more divided teacher work-force with too few ASTs

39

47

14

0

2. problems in deciding who will qualify as an AST

55

39

6

0

3. problems with the motivation and job satisfaction of teachers who are not ASTs

49

39

12

0

4. inequality of pupil access to excellent teaching

31

39

29

2

Comment

There were strongly held views in this category, though clearly inviting respondents to give their views on anticipated problems is likely to produce a strong reaction. The vast majority felt that the initiative would produce a divided workforce, with not enough teachers either eligible or able to become ASTs (86%-14%), and that having an AST in school would have a negative effect on the motivation and job satisfaction of the rest of the staff (88%-12%). The move would also reduce access to excellent teaching for the majority of children rather than increase it (70%-31%), and the issue of criteria for qualification as an AST was problematic for the overwhelming majority (94%-6%).

It is insulting, offensive, divisive and counter productive to imagine token rewards for an extremely small minority of teachers selected on far from objective criteria can do anything other than demoralise and demotivate the profession…to stigmatise possibly 99.5% of teachers as not excellent is an unusual way to improve morale and motivation (Secondary classteacher)

3.4 General positions on the AST proposal from different respondents

We next asked respondents to indicate general support or opposition to the AST proposal. The results are in Table 6.

Table 6 : Respondents’ overall views on the AST grade

How strongly do you support or oppose the introduction of the new AST grade :

Strongly support

Support

Oppose

Strongly oppose

6

36

32

27

Comment

The response clearly indicates an almost three-fifths majority of the whole sample opposed to the concept of the AST (59%-42%), and responses to this question were broadly similar among primary and secondary teachers (Table 7).

Table 7 : Attitudes to the AST grade by age-phase sector

Sector

Strongly support

Support

Oppose

Strongly oppose

Primary

4

38

31

28

Secondary

9

34

32

25

Primary & Secondary

0

38

25

38

Comment

Although the primary and secondary responses are virtually the same (Primary 59%-42% in opposition ; Secondary 57%-43%), greater variation in response emerges when the data is analysed according to respondents’ length of experience in the teaching profession (Table 8 that follows).

Table 8 : Attitudes to the AST by length of teaching experience

Length of experience in teaching

Strongly support

Support

Oppose

Strongly oppose

0 - 4 years

10

53

31

7

5 - 9 years

9

48

26

17

10+ years

4

32

32

32

Comment

Here we begin to see some significant variations in perspective, with a majority of younger/less experienced teachers in favour of the proposal, both those at the beginning of their careers (63%-38%), and those some way in to it (57%-43%) – though the latter category by a smaller margin -, and a majority of teachers who have been in the profession for over 10 years opposed to it (64%-36%).

Similar variation in perspective in response to the AST grade emerges among teachers holding different positions in school, as is shown in the following table (Table 9).

Table 9 : Attitudes to the AST grade among teachers in different positions in school

Position in school

Strongly support

Support

Oppose

Strongly oppose

Headteachers

2

22

38

38

Deputy headteachers

2

28

37

34

Senior teachers

9

38

28

24

Classteachers

8

46

27

20

Comment

A clear divide appears here between the perspective of those in senior, managerial and administrative positions, and the classteacher perspective. Although the majority of all respondents in the first three categories (experienced, ‘senior’ teachers) are opposed to the AST concept, the majority of classteachers (likely to be the younger, less experienced teachers with no or few management responsibilities outside their own classroom) support it.

The percentage gaps between those in support and those opposed rise in direct relationship to the respondent’s place on the continuum from classteacher to Head. Thus, these percentage differences range from classteachers (54%-47% in favour) to senior teachers (52%-47% against) to Deputies (71%-30% against) to Headteachers (76%-24% against).

It would appear that the reasons for this might be at least twofold. Firstly, senior teachers are already on higher salary scales than classteachers and not especially attracted by what might be a similar AST salary grade. Secondly, it might be that senior teachers are more acutely aware of the key issues identified as being problematic in the proposal, with regard, for example, to the criteria for selection, the application/interview/selection process itself, deployment of the AST to support colleagues, the effect on staff team morale, and the necessary funding to support successful implementation of the initiative.

3.5 The introduction of the AST grade

This part of the questionnaire was designed to elicit opinion on the specific proposals of the STRB for the introduction of the grade. Tables 10 and 11 test opinion on the key proposals.

Table 10 : Attitudes to the location and remuneration of ASTs

Do you agree with the proposal that:

 

Strongly agree

Agree

Disagree

Strongly disagree

1. from September 1998, ASTs should be introduced in the proposed Education Action Zones (EAZs)

3

34

42

21

2. ASTs should be paid on a new pay scale comparable to the headteacher and deputy headteacher pay spine (25,300 at point 1 to 40,200 at point 27)

7

33

34

26

3. ASTs should not have the same limits on their working time as those which apply to other teachers

5

31

 

 

41

 

23

Comment

The proposal that ASTs should primarily be appointed to schools in Education Action Zones is opposed by nearly two-thirds of the sample (63%-37%). This may partly be because they see the need for ASTs to work in all types of school in all types of areas, and partly because there is still little insufficient clarity and detail as to the nature of the EAZs.

The issue of differential pay scales has traditionally been a controversial topic for many in the profession, and the majority opposed to the second point here (60%-40%) may reflect this. Many comments were made about the democratic, collegiate, collaborative approach of staff teams in schools, both primary and secondary, and how such proposals went against the grain of such common and valued practice. It may be too, however, that there is greater support or opposition from different categories of respondents, as was highlighted in the Comments sections on Tables 8 and 9.

The differential in working time proposal is likewise opposed (64%-36%) by the majority, and it is likely that this is for similar reasons as for the opposition to differential pay scales.

3.6 The selection of ASTs

Respondents’ views on the proposed selection process for ASTs was the next area to be considered, and responses are outlined in Table 11 that follows.

Table 11 : Attitudes to the process of selecting ASTs

Do you agree with the proposal that aspiring ASTs should:

 

Strongly agree

Agree

Disagree

Strongly disagree

1. for 1998 be selected by inspectors recruited especially for that purpose

 

3

28

42

27

2. thereafter be evaluated against new AST standards devised by the Teacher Training Agency

4

53

27

16

3. apply for advertised AST posts in the normal way once they have achieved the nationally recognised AST standard

9

60

20

12

Comment

There is little enthusiasm evidenced here for the introduction of a new and specific kind of inspector solely selection of ASTs (69%-31% opposed). This again may partly be because there is insufficient detail about the proposal. There is support for the notion that ASTs should meet certain explicit criteria when being selected at a second, later phase (57%-43%) though again it is probable that the lack of specific detail produces some uncertainty in respondents’ minds, and does not encourage an overwhelming majority. The need for the application/selection process to be conducted fairly and explicitly is what appears to be intimated in responses to the final point which finds well over two thirds support (69%-32%)

3.7. The functions of Advanced Skills Teachers

This part of the questionnaire was intended to test opinion on the duties that the STRB suggests ASTs should undertake. Table 12 tests opinion on the central proposition that the main duty of the AST should be teaching in the classroom.

Table 12 : Response to the view that ASTs’ main duty is to teach

Do you agree that ASTs should:

 

Strongly agree

Agree

Disagree

Strongly disagree

Have as their main duty teaching in the classroom

43

48

8

1

Comment

The overwhelming response here in favour of retaining the AST in the classroom (91%-9%) would appear to represent at least two feelings. First, that the respondents are keen to see that teacher excellence should primarily be located in the classroom so that children get the benefit of the excellence. Secondly, this might well indicate that they see teaching and the teacher/pupil relationship as the essential educational process and wish to prioritise this above all other duties, administrative, managerial or otherwise.

Respondent comments included :

ASTs should primarily be used to model excellent teaching. Other teachers should have the opportunity to observe them teaching as well as receiving advice from them on best practice (Primary classteacher)

I have thought for many years that the good teacher with vast experience who enjoys teaching and is not interested in the paper pushing/management side of education should be rewarded for his/her ability to enthuse pupils and encourage other staff (Secondary Senior Teacher)

3.8 Other duties

In addition the Government suggested other duties for ASTs, including those listed below. Respondents were asked for their views on the appropriateness of these duties. The findings are summarised in Table 13.

Table 13 : Additional AST duties

 

Very appropriate

Appropriate

Inappropriate

Very inappropriate

1. Participating in Initial Teacher Education

39

52

7

2

2. Mentoring newly qualified teachers

47

48

3

1

3. Advising other teachers on classroom organisation and teaching methods

30

60

9

2

4. Disseminating best practice to colleagues

31

60

7

2

5. Disseminating findings from educational research to colleagues

13

57

27

3

6. Advising on provision of in-service training

12

54

32

3

7. Participating in the appraisal of other teachers

13

46

33

9

8. Helping teachers who are experiencing difficulties

27

62

9

2

9. Working in other schools in an advisory capacity

9

40

42

9

10.Receiving visitors from other schools in his or her own classroom

22

65

12

2

11.Working with teachers and tutors in higher education institutions

15

53

28

4

12. Working with teachers and

advisors in LEA facilities

12

57

27

4

13. Producing good quality

resources for wider

dissemination

18

54

25

4

14. Recording lessons on video

for wider use

14

55

26

4

Comments

There is very considerable support for almost all these suggestions.

In six categories (1-4, 8, 10) – being involved in ITE Partnership ; mentoring NQTs ; advising on classroom management and teaching methods ; disseminating best practice to

colleagues ; helping colleagues with difficulties ; and having teachers from other schools in to visit - over 90% of all respondents support the proposals.

Positive responses in a further six categories (5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 14) are indicated by two-thirds (in some cases nearer three-quarters) of respondents – disseminating research findings ; advising on INSET ; working with teachers and tutors in HE institutions ; working with teachers and advisers in LEA facilities ; producing resources ; and making videos of good classroom practice for wider use.

It is only in two categories that responses are much less enthusiastic. The first (category 7) is participating in the appraisal of other teachers (59% in favour). In view of the strong opposition to the related ideas of appraisal and performance-related pay from the professional associations – both traditionally and currently in relation to the Green Paper – this is, perhaps, a surprisingly high figure even if it falls below other percentage responses. The reasons for this are perhaps partly explained by respondents feeling that the appraiser would at least be an ‘insider’ rather than an ‘outsider’ from the LEA or OFSTED, and would also have the professional respect of colleagues because of her/his excellent practice.

The least favoured proposal is category 9 – working in other schools in an advisory capacity (only 49% in support). Two explanations for this seem likely. Firstly, because respondents wish their own school to benefit from the AST’s skills rather than other schools, and secondly, because they fear the disruption to school routines and pupils’ education that would take place from the need to arrange supply cover, perhaps on many occasions during the year.

3.9 Further comments

The questionnaire invited respondents to make further comments on the AST proposals and more than half of our respondents did so. Some examples have been used throughout this article to illuminate responses. Negative comments and reservations easily outnumbered positive ones, though, as was noted earlier and can be seen in the following comments, the strongest opposition in both numbers and feeling comes from senior/experienced teachers :

Another disaster for an already demoralised teaching profession (Secondary Head)

I think it has not been thought out clearly. It will be extremely divisive ; much resentment will be caused among teaching colleagues. There are many excellent teachers in all schools ; would not a system of rewarding all such teachers to a lesser degree be more appropriate…? (Secondary Deputy)

The effect on the low morale and high stress that currently exist will be devastating. It will split staffs, reduce motivation and lower the quality of teaching that comes from mutual support and teamwork (Primary Head)

I think the AST grade will prove thoroughly divisive and demoralise other staff who put in equal effort. We are all excellent in some areas …no-one is excellent in all … (Primary classteacher)

Even among respondents who supported the proposal in principle, there were serious concerns about its practical operation :

Philosophically, the idea is sound – retain excellent teachers who thoroughly enjoy their classroom work and who will prefer not to move in to administration. Huge practical concerns –validity, divisiveness, duration etc… (Secondary Deputy)

I would be interested to know how the full time teacher’s duties can be balanced with the Government’s proposed additional duties without doubling their already stretched working hours (Primary classteacher)

It is very difficult to fill senior posts in school now and this will make people even more reluctant to apply for Headship (Primary Head)

Who will decide on excellence …? (Primary classteacher)

Conclusions

Overall, the respondents in this survey felt that the majority of the Government proposals for the AST grade were contradictory and badly thought through. If ASTs took on most or all of the other duties suggested, they would necessarily be outside the classroom more than within it. Respondents found the idea of the AST teacher divisive and demotivating to all but the handful of successful appointees. They feared for staff cohesion and teamwork. They were uncertain exactly how ASTs would be selected and how they would be reassessed. Funding, especially for smaller schools, was seen as a major problem. There was concern about the impact of the proposal on future applications for head and deputy head posts. The majority of the evidence from this survey indicates considerable disquiet about the proposal to introduce the AST grade, and concerns about both the principle and the operation of the AST scheme. However, it is noticeable that strongest support comes from classteachers (54 per cent support) and strongest hostility from heads (76 per cent opposed) and deputies (70 per cent opposed). Less experienced teachers, those in post for less than four years, are far more open to the idea of the AST grade (62 per cent support) than teachers who have been in post for more than ten years (64 per cent opposed). The DfEE may welcome the generally supportive response that appears to come from younger/classroom teachers, and the support for the great majority of the ‘Other duties’ suggested by the STRB, but overall this survey of 800 teachers supports the initial negative responses of the professional associations, and for the same reasons.

4. The Advanced Skills Teacher Survey : Follow up Interviews

In order to explore issues in greater depth the second phase of the research project entailed follow up interviews with a sample of 20 questionnaire respondents. Teachers interested in further discussion of the AST initiative were asked to give contact details on the questionnaire. A representative sample of interviewees was subsequently drawn from the population of questionnaire respondents. Employing quota sampling (Miles and Huberman, 1994, p.28) five major subgroups in the population were identified. To obtain a spread of teaching careers the subgroups related to respondents with teaching experience 0-4 years, 5-9 years, 10+ years; and respondents who were deputies and headteachers. Each of these five subgroups had a quota of four teachers drawn in equal proportion from the primary and secondary sectors. Beyond fulfilling these categorical criteria, judgement sampling was employed to draw representatives from the population who displayed salient characteristics (Honigmann, 1982, p.80). In this case each of the five major subgroups comprised two interviewees who had signalled support for the AST grade on the questionnaire and two who had signalled opposition. Twelve women and eight men were interviewed, approximately reflective of the overall gender ratio of questionnaire respondents.

Interviews were carried out in the Spring and Summer terms of 1999, almost a year after the initial questionnaire survey, partly in order to chronicle any change in perspective among respondents since completing the questionnaire. Interviews were conducted individually in 20 schools across four LEAs, tape recorded and followed a semi-structured format. In addition to exploring further teachers’ views on the AST grade addressed in the questionnaire survey, the interview schedule was constructed to elicit broader discussion on how excellence in teaching could be recognised and rewarded, and on Government’s Green Paper proposals (DfEE, 1998a) for teaching relating to fast tracking and performance related pay.

The process of analysing the interview transcripts took a thematic approach with thematic directions commonly guided by the weight of data. Empirical one-offs and variations between interviewees are also included in the interpretation of data, though, where their inclusion is deemed illuminative of issues under discussion. The interviews have enabled us to report on the nuances and complexities of professional opinion.

Findings

4.1 Raising standards in teaching

Analysis of the responses in this area of raising standards indicates three broad positions : those supportive/optimistic in principle, those opposed/negative in principle (the majority), and those who felt torn/unsure, seeing both advantages and disadvantages. All three groups were agreed that schools obviously needed to appoint good classroom practitioners and retain them in the classroom, but were unsure how this retention was best encouraged and could not offer explicitly detailed suggestions as to how standards would be raised by the presence of an AST. They found the question difficult to answer and were not able to offer specific measurement criteria. None of the respondents, even those who were most supportive in principle, were clear about the details of how the scheme would work in practice, or the longer term implications for staff relationships in particular.

The rationale for those who felt introduction of the AST scheme would raise standards can be summarised as follows :

The views of those against the notion that the AST initiative can raise standards in teaching can be summarised as :

‘A teacher is actually the summative product of many other teachers’ ideas’

(Head of Maths Department : Secondary )

4.2 Improving the career and pay prospects of the best teachers

Again there is a mixture of views here, sometimes contradictory ones held by the same respondent, with intuitive feelings about what could happen rather than arguments based on informed opinion or research evidence. The minority who felt career and pay prospects of the best teachers would be improved argue :

Most respondents, while recognising that there should be a way of rewarding excellent teachers (though uncertain how this could be achieved) stressed the need to increase the pay of all teachers, and not a single and controversial group such as the AST. If money went to the ASTs in the system then it could not go to other groups, whether middle managers or subject coordinators. There was a feeling that the proposal would obviously increase pay (though the proposal was still unclear as to exactly how much), and change, but not improve, overall prospects. There was a strong view that any system that rewards a few is divisive and one respondent remarked that people who are career-minded aren’t necessarily the best teachers. Overall, those opposing felt that the pay issue was a most controversial area ; if the proposal did come into being it could begin a painful, bitter and divisive process that might take a generation to work through. Even one who supported the initiative said :

I just don’t see the practice being very easy to achieve. But then maybe it’s got to go through this very painful process of transition, and then maybe …in the future it might be okay

(Head of Lower School/Pastoral : Secondary)

4.3 Attracting more able people into teaching

The respondents were not convinced that the initiative in itself would attract more able people in to teaching. There was a ‘probably’ and a ‘possibly’ and a ‘maybe, over a long time, with a long transition period’, but overall the great majority felt that pay was not the key issue in teacher recruitment, and that increasing the salary for one kind of minority teacher would not attract an increased number of applicants.

There would, additionally, be too few AST posts available to have a significant impact on recruitment and application.

Almost all the respondents remarked that pay was not the significant factor in their own situation and did not feel that teaching was about money. Again and again, there is a continuing voice about teaching being a vocation, about beliefs and values, about helping children, giving, that you have got to want to do it. Additionally, society gives low status to teaching as a profession, and children are very demanding and these factors do not encourage any but the determined and committed. Improving conditions rather than pay would be a more significant move :

I think (if people were asked) would you prefer a pay rise, or to have a job that you’re more able realistically to do, then people would say I prefer to be put in a position where I can do my job more realistically. The bottom line of this is that if you paid me more money, for example, I don’t think I could do my job any better. If you gave me more non-contact time, or fewer classes, or more resources, or a better support system, I could do my job better And if I had to make a choice between teaching in a school where I or any other teacher halve my timetable and got the same pay, or I got more pay, I think you’d have a large majority of people opting for a more realistic workload

(Deputy Head : Secondary School)

4.4 Applying for an AST post

Most respondents (11/20) would not apply for an AST post, and five would, if certain conditions were in place. Of the four Headteachers who were asked if they would initiate the AST scheme, three were opposed and only one in favour.

The reasons given for not applying included : feeling too old and already advanced in the management structure ; that it would be a sideways rather than an upward move ; that the role would take you out of school too much ; that the operational and contractual details were not at all clear, especially in relation to hours required ; that subject knowledge was not felt to be good enough even if motivational and interpersonal skills with pupils were ; and, for three of the respondents, the proposal was divisive.

Five would apply to be an AST, but were rather tentative in their views, application depending on factors such as : whether or not they were encouraged or ‘nudged’ to do so by, say, colleagues or Head ; how clear, detailed and forthcoming was information about the post following the initial outline ; and whether the time was politically correct or not to apply. Two were quite keen and enthusiastic, partly because of recent OFSTED, mentoring or Acting Deputy experience, though again were anxious about the extra hours that might be involved.

The three Headteachers opposed (2 Primary/1 Secondary) would not initiate the proposal because of its potential divisiveness. The Secondary Head in favour saw it as focusing purely on the quality of teaching and learning, on pedagogical issues which senior managers in school did not usually have the opportunity to consider in such depth :

One (AST) in each (curriculum) area would be brilliant, but obviously that’s a big commitment of additional resources…if it were an extra 10,000 or so people were earning …instead of being curriculum coordinators on 27,000 or 28,000, they were earning, say 35,000 or 37,000 …you’re only talking of 60,00 or 70,000 in a budget of 2 million. It’s not a huge percentage increase in resources and yet it could be very effective in raising standards. And it could be a whole different career direction for teachers so that they really said, ‘Look, my future’s in the classroom. It’s about teaching and learning but working with young staff and helping them to be as good a teacher as me’

(Headteacher : Secondary School)

4.5 Changes in view about the AST proposal

There was some minor movement here between the time of the postal questionnaires (June 1998) and the individual follow up interviews (April-June 1999), but no transformations from opposition to enthusiasm or vice-versa. Shifts had largely occurred in those who strongly supported/supported the initiative originally and were now less sure about how it was all going to work. One respondent had been very enthusiastic originally as an NQT :

I was completely pro to start with as an NQT because last year that’s what I was and that’s when I heard about it…

Having actually got more into the politics of the school really, but not just of the school, but also of what teaching is all about, I think I’m more divided …it’s a fantastic idea because teachers aren’t valued, they’re completely undervalued …but I’m really sceptical as to how it’s actually going to be put into place and how it’s going to be made to work …it just all depends on how it’s going to be put into place. That’s what bothers me.

(Classteacher : Secondary School)

4.6 Other initiatives (Fast tracking ; performance-related pay ; other )

Again here there was general concern about the principles of performance-related pay from all respondents apart from one with an industry background. There was nowhere near enough detail about how either proposal might work, and the transcripts are full of ‘what if ?’ and ‘how ?’ questions, and examples illustrating contradictions and difficulties in defining and comparing. Both proposals, particularly performance-related pay, were seen as gravely problematic, ‘a minefield’ in one respondent’s words.

The arguments against performance-related pay consisted of :

Opposition to the idea of fast tracking teachers was less vehemently expressed. Rather there was uncertainty as to what was meant and who it might apply to. There was concern that many skills and insights are developed through a complex process of stages of experience, reflection and maturation, and that fast track teachers would miss out on key elements of this. Young, university postgraduates with strong subject knowledge but little knowledge of children and schooling might also produce resentment in experienced teachers, perhaps on a lower pay scale. The feeling was expressed that there should be a minimum time/experience before you could be fast tracked, though no respondent suggested what this might be.

One respondent, however, was very enthusiastic about a mature student she had just had on school experience, and pointed to those like her, perhaps only in Year 3 of a four year course, who were already ‘teachers’ and better than some in post for years.

Most respondents did not appear to be thinking of students like this, but could not quite see who these fast-trackers might be.

4.7 Excellence

The notion of what constitutes ‘excellence’ and how it can best be rewarded is clearly problematic for the respondents, and this is largely echoed in Government/DfEE literature and the research literature generally, where there are broad general assumptions rather than commonly agreed, explicit criteria about what constitutes an excellent teacher or school.

Excellence was very difficult to define for all. It was only in a minor way about measurable factors such as children achieving successful exam or Sats results through their teachers. It was much more about relationships, atmosphere, ethos, confident and motivated children who can recognise their own self development, a ‘spark’ :

It isn’t about schemes of work, it isn’t about anything you can capture and stick it on a bit of paper. It is about the felt bit. As I say, I think it’s about the spark, the thing that brings it to life between the people, whether it’s two children with each other or an adult and a child, or whatever

(Deputy Head : Secondary School)

I think excellence must be something that can be measured and there must be some criteria for it. But again it can’t be just down to that. It can’t just be down to facts and figures and how many good lessons you’ve done, or what the levels your children are achieving. It’s got to be something that someone comes in to your classroom picks up as well, like an ethos that can be caught. You know, it can’t just be measured on paper like tick lists and Ofsted-type things. But it must be something also that’s not caught on one occasion, but that’s really there all the time in the school, you know, on a bad day, good day

(Classteacher : Infants School)

I think a lot of the good things in teaching are things in the classroom : getting children motivated to actually want to learn, and to want to come to school and enjoy learning

(Deputy Head : Primary School)

Recognising and rewarding the excellent teacher were also difficult notions to sort out for most respondents : the issues were complex, interlinked, related to teamwork and the differing qualities and skills teachers brought to the developing school and ever changing curriculum, and not essentially about financial reward :

(Excellence can be recognised and rewarded)… by all teachers being paid the going rate …which clearly is more than what we’re being paid at the moment. That’s one aspect that would please a lot of teachers. But, as I said before, I think people go in to teaching as a vocation and it’s not something which they particularly expect to be rewarded for all the time. They get their rewards from the response from children, the response from their colleagues and working in very much a shared environment. I think that’s the point the Government have missed.

(Head of Maths Department : Secondary School)

I still think personal satisfaction is top, and all of us who teach here would say the same – that your reward is actually in seeing the children’s pride, pleasure, fun ; the parents’ response on open night ; the headteacher coming in and making a comment about ‘Oh, that’s really lovely’ or whatever. That to me is the reward. I don’t think any of us actually ever think of it in terms of monetary reward, not for excellent teaching.

(Classteacher : Infants School)

These examples are typical responses from the interview sessions, reflecting many teachers’ – both primary and secondary - shared and fundamental beliefs about teaching, however inarticulate, modest and tentative. Teaching is seen as a shared, team effort in which relationships, atmosphere and children’s growing confidence and understanding – all problematic in terms of easy and accurate measurement - are regarded as more important than single, comparatively easy to measure criteria such as exam results or the financial reward of individual teachers.

5. Conclusions

Analysis of responses in these interviews confirm that both supporters and detractors are unclear about how the scheme can - or will - operate in practice. Although a number of teachers mused on the wide implications for such things as career structure or collegiality, most tended to contextualise this by speculating, often in a piecemeal way, on the practicalities of introducing the new scheme into their own schools. Some schools, it seems, are ahead of the game : they already have long-standing, in-house arrangements for identifying and developing teaching skills. Professional tutors or heads of department are responsible for the arrangements in secondary schools while subject co-ordinators or deputy headteachers oversee them in primary. For these schools, some of the proposed tasks for the AST are familiar but the role and designated post to which they may be attached in the future are new. In some schools, therefore, it is anticipated that the creation of AST posts will have knock-on effects on existing roles, tasks and responsibilities at senior and/or middle management level(s). Despite the Green Paper’s intention to locate the AST’s long-term career in the classroom, teachers believe that the incumbent might be drawn more inevitably into management - specifically into a new managerialism of classroom teaching, especially as ASTs are intended to be part of the Senior Management Team in schools. The evidence suggests that such managerialism is not welcome. The crux of the problem appears to be the way(s) in which the AST’s role and work might be interpreted and then integrated into existing structures in order to minimise misunderstandings and tensions.

Successful integration, of course, cannot be taken for granted, for as these findings show, there are other overlapping doubts and uncertainties. These doubts and uncertainties arise from a perceived lack of information about schools’ obligations to establish or disregard AST posts. In addition, teachers are unclear about criteria for identifying likely ASTs and about procedures for appointing and deploying them, both in intra-school and inter-school roles. As with all externally imposed changes, teachers are trying to interpret ‘top-down’ prescriptions, which are to be mediated through schools’ management systems. Underlying this level of practicality, there is much lingering doubt about the AST’s ability to encompass successfully a repertoire of teaching skills and knowledge of standards of achievement in order to be effective at all levels in either primary or secondary school. Standards and effectiveness, as several interviewees note, are wide-ranging and often contested ideas.

Whatever the real or imagined doubts and uncertainties, however, teachers revealed a residual, professional pride in the notion of good teaching. Not surprisingly, the precise definition of the term is elusive : it is not readily explained by what it is but more by what it is not. It is not merely the exercise of exceptional teaching skills, nor is it dependent on high levels of pay. Good teachers who engage in good teaching are able to resist the lure of management posts and their privileges and rewards, and remain in the classroom. The notion of good teaching, however elusive, is an important touchstone. For the majority of this group of teachers, it relates strongly to knowledge and wisdom gleaned from experience and what we came to understand as a degree of ‘professional modesty’. This modesty is detectable in teachers’ reluctance to sing their own praises, deference shown to colleagues and candid appraisal of their own strengths, weaknesses and career prospects. As far as AST posts are concerned, some older, experienced teachers tend to believe that they should stand aside : and some younger teachers feel the need for informal encouragement from headteachers colleagues or friends before they will feel confident enough to apply. From the limited evidence available, we are unable to judge the strength or persuasiveness of this altruistic sentiment. For us, it offers the possibility of tracing its origins in a study of teacher socialisation.

It would be misleading, however, to give the impression that teacher responses are imbued exclusively with altruism and the notion of good teaching. Both sentiment and notion seem to be incorporated into idealism, undercut at times by a note of cynicism. The values and beliefs sustaining this idealism are familiar : primary and secondary teachers confirm that the relationship with the pupil is paramount ; teaching has transformative power ; and, on the whole, teachers are not motivated exclusively by financial reward. Cynicism undercuts through suspicion : the government, it is said, is tinkering, on the cheap, with the system for the benefit of a minority of teachers, not the many ; experience, it is said, is in danger of being supplanted by fast tracking; teaching as team-work is being undermined and the creation of AST posts will not attract the most able into teaching. Here, the close juxtaposition of idealism and cynicism may seem paradoxical. Taken together, however, they are mutually reinforcing and provide a discourse through which respondents distance themselves. In doing so, they expose perceived unfairness in the proposed change, lack of understanding of staff cultures in schools and a misguided element of teacher recruitment strategy.

As indicated above, teachers tend to contextualise the AST role when drawing out the wider ramifications as they see them in their own schools. Ramifications, we suggested, are drawn out by reference to existing roles and organisational arrangements but, in several instances, other notable inter-professional comparisons are made. The collective comparisons, we concluded, are important for both their explicit and implicit content. Explicitly teachers are loosely categorised, with doctors and nurses; teachers’ status is calibrated in a generalised way against theirs. In addition, comparisons are extended more specifically to entry requirements, qualifications, further professional development, career structure and self-governance of professions, all of which are contrasted implicitly with the more favourable status and position of doctors and higher rewards in the private sector. Inter-professional comparisons in these areas are not new but, in our opinion, they are important because they are measured and sustained. Teachers are preoccupied with them and their preoccupation reflects not only concern about status and position but also shows keenness to broaden the context in which their own quality and worth to society is enhanced.

Although some themes such as pride in the notion of good teaching emerge strongly, others, especially excellence in teaching, are diffuse and difficult to encapsulate. Unlike the comments and sentiments that coalesce around the former, those about the latter - i.e. excellence - show wide variation. There is little consensus or criteria or methods for identifying it or, indeed, on the view that the search can be limited strictly to classrooms. In general terms, it is sometimes intangibly located in pupils’ affective states of well being and motivation, or perhaps in teachers’ own feelings of satisfaction. For some, excellence can be acclaimed through favourable outcomes of OfSTED inspection ; for others it can emerge through appraisal, measurable pupil-outcomes or sense of vocation. The range is wide, as are influences on it- e.g. socio-economic factors, home-school relations - over which the teacher has no direct control. The teachers hold different notions of excellence but, as many assert, neither excellence nor teaching can be narrowly defined in terms of classroom skills.

Emerging Issues

If the proposals for introducing ASTs opens up a new, if small, area of the interface in relations between the government and teaching profession, our study helps to illuminate a fissure in these relations. The government’s power over these relations may have the accumulated weight of a long-standing sine qua non but there is evidence of some significant professional resistance. The tone and volume of the resistance is sceptical, nonplussed and, in some cases, fierce. There is scepticism about the motives for introducing ASTs, their acceptance in schools and the suggested advantages of AST posts to the career structure. As marginalised, though vociferous, onlookers, the teachers are nonplussed by the perceived naivety of the official version of roles, tasks and responsibilities in real school situations. Some of the teachers’ strong responses arise from a sense of frustration with intended change in which, as professionals, they have played no part in formulating proposals, yet are now expected to respond, from the sidelines, in developing them. Further elaboration of this apparent contradiction, and others, is beyond the scope of this paper, but the sources of resistance are rooted in these contradictions which, collectively, are another reminder of the erosion of professionality.

Teachers’ concerns about the proposals for ASTs also draw attention to the government’s very determined policy implementation. In this instance, as several teachers intimate, the policy is not peripherally derived or mediated but centrally driven. In the wake of so many government initiatives during the last decade, teachers are continuing to react critically to - but are not surprised by - implementation through the imposition of a power-coercive change strategy in which arrangements and timescales are largely predetermined. Whatever the rights and wrongs of adopting such a strategy to impact on the raising of standards, there may be unanticipated consequences for schools. Headteachers, for example, may feel that the strategy’s direct, blanket approach could cause misunderstanding or raise unrealistic, local expectations. Teachers may feel that each imposition erodes professionality still further, thus worsening relations with government. In our study, we soon noticed the extent to which teachers feel distanced and positioned by a strategy that evokes a vocabulary of conflict - e.g. "force", "enemy", "propaganda", "alienating".

Although a key aspect of the government’s explicit rationale for ASTs is the improvement in standards, the new posts come within the ambit of existing, quiescent social market philosophy. Teachers who tend to believe that vocationalism is the appropriate guiding principle in the public sector are likely to question the need for the introduction of such posts as the AST, particularly when selection criteria and defining characteristics are problematic, as compared to those for administration, pastoral work or curriculum leadership as currently understood. Here, the mismatch is bound to add to the tension between competition and vocationalism. Headteachers may find themselves under heavy political pressure from governors or parents to appoint ASTs - and to be seen to be doing so. In a different context, campaigns to attract the "best people" into teaching are likely to stress the financial reward of becoming an AST through fast-tracking. In these and similar ways, individualism is encouraged and introduces a potential for divisiveness into what many teachers believe is a collegial arena. The beliefs and values of the collegial culture - collaboration, dialogue, shared understandings, everyone contributing in their different ways - are at variance with those informing individualism.

So far, reports on the activities and influence of ASTs have been sketchy, in the main limited to press reports with a mainly biographical slant. The first AST, appointed in July 1998, was Head of Design Technology at a Grant-Maintained Comprehensive in North London. The proposed pattern of her first year’s work as an AST was to spend two days a week helping other teachers in the school to improve their teaching skills and two days a month in other local schools (Daily Mail 1998).

The first externally appointed AST in the country in January 1998 was to the post of ICT Manager in a West Sussex Technology College. There, Chris Whitman explained how he saw the role:

I intend to use this role to employ ICT creatively and develop new teaching and learning strategies in a wide range of contexts. I will be spending a lot of time setting up an infrastructure that will give access to high quality resources -industry-standard software, multimedia applications, the internet and electronic mail, video conferencing, computer integrated manufacturing, virtual reality and much more.

(Gen 1999)

Throughout 1999 there has been a steady stream of press articles about the new appointments. It is noticeable that these generally refer to appointments in the secondary sector and seek to allay teachers’ fears that new AST appointments will be divisive and inimical to school collegiality (for example Rodda 1999). The reports

suggest that a high proportion of ASTs are drawn from already promoted Heads of Department (HoD) in secondary schools and that some remain in post, combining HoD and AST duties (Carmichael 1999). There is also some evidence that the original concept of the AST grade is undergoing some modifications as it is introduced on the ground. For example, Newham Education Action Zone appointed 44 ASTs in 1999, 15 of whom were located in a central pool rather than in individual schools as the AST scheme originally intended (Carmichael 1999).

The Green Paper indicates that ASTs will normally be members of the school’s ‘leadership group’. In primary schools, this will normally consist of the Head, Deputy and any ASTs ; in Secondary the ASTs would join major Heads of Department, those with pastoral responsibilities and the Senior Management Team in this ‘leadership group’ (Cm.4164 : para.33 and paras.48-52). The DfEE has also set up a Standards Fund Grant of 10,000 per AST per year to cover the extra costs to a school of having each AST. It will provide this sum jointly with the school’s LEA, if the LEA supports the creation of an AST post within the school :

The funding covers extra pay costs and the cost of supply cover for the equivalent of one day per week when the AST will be expected to undertake outreach duties to help other teachers and schools .

It is too soon to speculate about the eventual outcome and influence of the new grade. We have argued above that recent developments in educational policy have usually been characterised by teachers’ strong opposition to the proposals in principle, followed by acquiescence, and sometimes even enthusiasm, once they have been put into operation, even the National Curriculum itself. It remains to be seen whether this will be the case with the AST grade, but if there is 10,00 available for each AST - a general acceptance that there are excellent teachers ; that society needs to recognise teachers’ value and improve morale by recognising and praising excellence ; more and more ASTs being appointed over the next two years ; and successful ASTs in

post - the opposition to the AST initiative reported in this paper might also melt away. At present, though, however willing teachers are to recognise the value of sharing excellence most see the AST proposal as flawed and lacking in clear, thought through detail, leading to probable division in staffrooms rather than improvement in standards for either schools or the profession itself.

REFERENCES

Baker, M. (1998), ‘Invasion of the superteachers’ Times Educational Supplement, 10 October

Blunkett, D. (1998) Interview Breakfast with Frost, 29 November

Carmichael, M. (1999), ‘Scaling the heights in the classroom’ Times Educational Supplement, 19 March

Chapman, M. (1998), ‘Is it a bird, is it a plane or is it a superteacher?’ The Times, 6 November

Daily Mail (1998), ‘First superteacher has a lesson for her colleagues’ 25 July

DfEE (1997), ‘Excellence in Schools’  (Cmnd 3681), London: HMSO

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Professional Association of Teachers (1998) Press release: ‘PAT says no to ‘super teachers’, 2 March

Rodda, M. (1999), ‘Is there a superteacher in the class?’  New Teacher Magazine, Easter 1999, London, DfEE

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Secondary Heads Association (1998) ’Letter on Advanced Skills Teachers to the Director of the School Teachers’ Secretariat, Office of Manpower Economics’, 9 January

BERA/PAPER/8/99

This document was added to the Education-line database on 30 November 1999