Studying for an advanced university qualification makes little or no difference to a teacher's performance in the classroom. This is the conclusion of numerous research studies in the UK, the United States and elsewhere. So why then, in Scotland, do we encourage hard-pressed teachers to study for additional qualifications, and then reward them with a generous salary increment irrespective of the quality of their work in the classroom?
We can have two teachers who spend fair bits of their own time doing educational work: one busy developing interesting lesson plans and resources, the other studying advanced pedagogy for a chartered teacher qualification. The former's efforts undoubtedly contribute to better lessons; the latter's efforts, in many cases, make little or no difference. The latter receives a salary increase; the former receives nothing.
A headteacher recently told me that he has parents complaining "every other week" about one of his maths teachers who is incapable of engaging his classes properly. "He is a brilliant mathematician," the head said, "but he can't communicate with pupils." Irate parents claim he has no control of his classes and that his professional short-comings are jeopardising their children's career and higher education prospects. Yet, in spite of all this, he is a chartered teacher.
It is a division which has splintered some departments. In one subject department, harmony was upset when the principal teacher accused a colleague of working on her chartered teacher assignments when she should have been teaching the class in front of her. In another, friction and resentment arose when one teacher was given permission to "project manage" a new course which her colleagues were expected to write and implement.
There have also been heated squabbles between education managers, who want to be able to endorse teachers for the programme, and the unions, which strongly oppose any intervention or veto by headteachers. At present, any teacher can progress to chartered teacher status in spite of the founding guidelines stating that the chartered teacher should be an excellent classroom teacher and role model.
Even teachers who embark on the programme are unhappy with some of the arrangements. "Why should we," one teacher asked, "have to pay our own course fees while other teachers can advance their careers without incurring any financial costs?"
In my opinion, the chartered teacher programme is a source of strife and division the teaching profession can do without. Certainly, there is a place for the advanced study of pedagogy, but the introduction of a financial reward is a mistake. Critics point out that it is no coincidence that the largest group undertaking the programme are aged between 51 and 55 and preparing for retirement. The increase in salary means a significantly higher retirement pension.
If it is deemed worthwhile to pay teachers differently, why don't we offer rewards for those who excel at the really important classroom skills: teaching and inspiring pupils.
John Greenlees is a geography teacher.