Like keeping the monkeys in line at feeding time might be how some teachers describe their classrooms on a bad day but for Singapore teacher Tan Ban Sun the description could not be more accurate. For the first term of the school year, the 15-year teaching veteran swapped his students at Nan Chiau Primary School for the chance to get up close and personal with giraffes, orang-utans and elephants. He hadn't run away to join the circus but spent the term at Singapore Zoo as part of the government's professional development scheme for teachers, part of a package of initiatives introduced two years ago to help the city state attract and retain teachers. With measures ranging from giving teachers with young children the option of working part-time to providing more promotion opportunities, teachers say the initiatives are helping them juggle work and family responsibilities and the government is confident it will reach its target of 30,000 teachers by 2010. In 2006 Singapore's Ministry of Education examined teacher development and compensation as part of its regular review process, and conducted extensive consultations with teachers. Director of personnel Lu Cheng Yang said the ministry also visited local companies and overseas educational institutions which were renowned for their human resources practices to explore ideas which could be adapted to Singapore's education service. The result was the Growth, Recognition, Opportunities and Well-Being (Grow) package, a range of measures designed to improve conditions, pay and professional development for teachers. Mr Lu said the first part of the package, introduced in 2006, had increased teachers' career options and opportunities for personal and professional growth. 'The Grow 2.0 package, introduced in 2008, not only provides teachers with a more attractive remuneration but also gives teachers more recognition for excellence and commitment to their profession, more career options and opportunities for professional development, and greater flexibility in managing their careers and personal commitments,' he said. Under the Grow package, the average classroom teacher received an annual pay increase of up to 12 per cent, while 'outstanding teachers' received a pay rise of up to 18 per cent. While teachers have been able to complete short-term professional development placements at external organisations since 2004, the Grow scheme allows teachers with more than 12 years' service to undertake external placements for up to 10 weeks on full pay. Teachers have completed placements at a range of public and private sector organisations, ranging from charities, hospitals and arts councils to a museum of toys. They can also complete overseas placements, with one teacher spending six weeks in Germany studying how schools teach environmental science. Teachers are also encouraged to upgrade their academic qualifications, with greater financial support for those pursuing university studies. Last year about 460 teachers applied for leave to upgrade their qualifications, more than double the number who applied in 2007. Mr Lu said teachers were making good use of the professional development schemes, with the number of teachers on the enhanced professional development leave scheme more than doubling from 127 in 2007 to 351 last year. He said the number of teachers working part-time increased to more than 430 last year, up from about 300 in 2007. Since 2006, teachers with children under the age of 12 have been allowed to apply for part-time work, a measure which was last year extended to cover heads of departments, subject heads and senior teachers. For Samsiah Sanip, a subject head teacher at Yishun Junior College, the ability to work part-time meant she could spend more time with her own children without having to give up her 20-year teaching career. With her older children sitting their A-levels and O-levels, and her youngest son struggling with his school work, Ms Samsiah thought she needed to spend more time at home. She even considered resigning so she could help prepare her son for his final year of primary school. 'I was that desperate,' she said. 'It was a question of how much time I could put aside for them. All these considerations made me decide that I should do something about my workload.' Under initiatives introduced in the Grow scheme, Ms Samsiah was able to work three days a week, the equivalent of two-thirds of a full-time role. She kept her head teacher position and while she performed the same teaching duties, her administration responsibilities were reduced. Ms Samsiah, who has returned to full-time work this year, said being able to work part-time helped her juggle family and work responsibilities. She said being able to spend more time with her children had major benefits for her family life - she even had time to attend her own children's parents' day as a parent rather than a teacher. 'I think if you're caught in a situation where things are overwhelming, and you know that if you don't take time off you will not be able to help your children as much, this is a good scheme, rather than leaving teaching completely,' she said. Mr Lu said Singapore's teaching workforce had increased to about 29,400 as of August last year, up from 27,600 in 2005. He said the government would reach its target of 30,000 teachers by 2010, adding that it was also recruiting support staff to provide student counselling and assistance for students with special needs. 'The Grow initiatives represent the government's firm commitment to ensuring that the teaching service remains attractive and satisfying,' he said. 'We will continue to make enhancements to keep the teaching profession attractive both for newcomers and serving teachers.' Edwin Lye, general secretary of the Singapore Teachers' Union, said the Grow initiatives had helped boost teacher morale. 'I think Grow shows that the civil service recognises that teachers play a critical role in the civil service and society at large and that's why there's an effort to make sure that the compensation scheme is on par with the market and efforts have been made to make sure there are opportunities for them to grow professionally,' he said. However, he said teachers were still under much pressure from parents and society. Some teachers had expressed concerns about the appraisal system used to determine salary increases under the merit-based performance system. 'Our concern as a union has always been that we need well-trained school leaders who are conscious of their accountability to really be able to implement this appraisal system, so that at the end of the day there's a perception that everyone is fairly appraised and the rewards are equitable,' he said. Having completed his term at the zoo working on educational programmes, Mr Tan believes his time outside of the classroom will benefit his students. He said working on the zoo's student curriculum, conducting student tours and learning about animal husbandry and conservation would help improve his teaching. 'It's widened my perspective, especially in terms of teaching science,' he said. 'I think the professional development scheme helps teachers in the sense that it actually builds on the teacher's capacity. It's about life-long learning.'