There used to be a cachet to teaching in London: bigger challenges but also greater recognition. But that was lost, says Gerald McAlea, an official for the Department for Education and Skills, whose job it is to restore that prestige. He is in charge of the Chartered London Teacher (CLT) scheme, which aims to "recreate the sense of London being the peak of a teacher's career".
The scheme is part of the London Challenge to improve education. Most teachers in the capital (some 39,000) have signed up for the scheme. The big hit rate is partly due to the government decision to pay pound;1,000 per teacher registered to all schools that signed up staff for the award by March 2006. This would cover the one-off pound;1,000 bonus for successful CLT applicants and bring heads on board.
"The idea was that the money went into the school budget, not directly to the teacher - and it stayed there until the teacher qualified," says Mr McAlea. "This way, heads can feel a sense of ownership, and that the scheme is part of their school's continuing professional development."
Schools now have to pay the pound;1,000 from their CPD budgets. The point of the scheme was to recognise the skills needed to work with the ethnic and social diversity in London and to foster a sense of identity and professional pride among the capital's teachers. Work for the certificate - which the first "graduates" will receive this term - is rooted in existing performance management targets, focused on meeting 12 standards held to be crucial for good teaching in London, including managing diversity in the classroom.
Cavell Burchell, assistant head at Beaverwood girls' school in Bromley, says the award is about creating the best classroom environment to meet London needs. "It is asking teachers to do what they should be doing anyway, but to think about how and why they do it," he says.
He is one of four staff at Beaverwood being accredited this term. "Teachers need to show how they've developed and been creative in dealing with London issues," he says.
Assessment criteria are flexible to reflect London's diversity, but Mr Burchell says getting CLT status is not a "done deal". "You know your staff, and those that will need to learn and adapt to make the grade," he says.
The length of the course - at least two years - means there is continuing guidance to help them move forward, and as the award is open only to teachers off the main pay scale, there is also the incentive to go for a leadership post if they don't have one already. It all adds up to career enrichment. For, as Mr Burchell points out, if he were to move only four miles further into London, he would have to deal with a new set of cultural issues but would at least already be aware of how to handle pupil diversity. In this way, London teachers have more in common with those of Birmingham or Leeds than with their Home Counties colleagues.
So why not extend the CLT to other cities? Mr McAlea says that at an early stage, representatives of other cities considered similar schemes, but nothing has come of it so far. But talks at the National College for School Leadership are focusing on ways to share the benefits of London Challenge.