One of the finest bargains in our education system is the gifted teacher. He or she costs the same as a mediocre or poor teacher but makes a considerably bigger contribution to learning and teaching. Research shows that the impact of a gifted teacher is the same as a substantial cut in maximum class size which is, of course, a much more expensive means of raising education standards.
Many gifted teachers do not just motivate and inspire pupils; they also support weaker colleagues who have difficulty controlling their classes or organising courses.
So, is there any way we can properly remunerate gifted teachers, as they do in countries such as Singapore, for the superb contribution they make to our profession? Is it not a bit of an absurdity that we are willing to allocate higher salaries to teachers, no matter their effectiveness, who have gained additional academic qualifications for chartered teacher status without rewarding those who do the most to enhance learning and teaching in our schools? It must be so disheartening for gifted teachers to find themselves being paid considerably less than a chartered teacher who might be a failing teacher.
But is it possible to identify accurately and properly teachers who are highly effective? In the United States, they have attempted to do this through various techniques, such as value-added analysis, to show how pupils' test and Sat scores change during their time with a teacher.
Value-added analysis is a rather crude and, in some ways, unsatisfactory measure, but it does succeed in identifying elements of effectual and ineffectual teaching; it also highlights the very considerable difference between the two.
One study showed how pupils, in the space of an academic session, learnt the equivalent of 12 months' more knowledge, skills and ideas with a gifted teacher than they did with an ineffective teacher.
In other countries, the identification of effective teachers is based on less complicated methods, including first-hand observations of lessons and the opinions of colleagues and pupils. Some countries reward talented teachers by appointing them as classroom mentors to provide help and support for other teachers, as well as undertaking their primary duty of teaching pupils.
Another absurdity of our system is that we promote talented practitioners away from the work they excel at. Our finest teachers should be encouraged, with higher salaries and higher status, to remain longer in the classroom rather than take up the non-teaching duties which accompany promoted posts.
But what skills does a gifted teacher possess? Are these skills a gift or are they skills that can be acquired by other teachers?
People have offered different answers to these questions but most agree that good teachers work extra hard and offer lessons of quality and imagination. Other traits include being enthusiastic about learning and having ambition for their pupils. Advanced academic qualifications are useful, but it is wrong to think they contribute that much to effective teaching.
I fear that our finest teachers may also be blessed with some natural gift. I have observed teachers enter rowdy classrooms and achieve immediate calm and attention without seeming to do or say very much.
Nonetheless we can, and must, do more to reward excellent teachers and improve the performance of many other practitioners. We can do both by boosting the salary and status of our best teachers, encouraging them to remain in the classroom, and, as mentors, demonstrate what effective teaching is all about.
John Greenlees is a secondary teacher.