Kezia Dugdale, the front runner for the leadership of the Scottish Labour Party, has outlined her plans to reintroduce the controversial chartered teacher scheme at a cost of pound;25 million.
In a speech in Edinburgh this week, ahead of the announcement of the winner of the Scottish Labour leadership contest tomorrow, Ms Dugdale tried to garner last-minute support by vowing to put education at the heart of everything she did.
As well as pledging to reintroduce chartered teachers - rebranded as the "enhanced teacher grade" - she promised to increase the number of classroom assistants and teachers in schools serving the poorest pupils.
She also called for school inspections to be suspended for a year and redesigned, saying that closing the attainment gap should be "top of what inspectors evaluate" and that unannounced inspections should be introduced.
Ms Dugdale, pictured opposite, added: "There's one more thing I'd add to the inspection regime: a requirement to measure how well schools cater for looked-after children; to give them a voice and a place in a system where it's too easy to be ignored."
The plans for the new enhanced teacher grade would cost just under pound;25 million, based on 10 per cent of secondary teachers taking up the chance to undertake an additional qualification and increase their pay, Ms Dugdale told TESS.
The scheme could be funded through the pound;25 million-a-year pot set aside for the next four years for the Scottish Attainment Challenge and by reintroducing the 50p top rate of income tax for people with salaries of more than pound;150,000, she said.
Teachers working in deprived areas would be given the chance to embark on the new chartered teacher scheme first, Ms Dugdale added.
She said: "When you work out the costs of introducing something like this you have to target the resource, so initially I would tie it to the schools in the most challenging areas.
"What I am proposing is not hugely dissimilar from the chartered teacher scheme we used to have. I think it's important to have more opportunities for teachers to develop their careers. That has been stifled in recent years by taking away heads of departments."
She added: "I also think there's a particular role for teachers who are in the business of changing kids' lives, who want to specialise in driving up standards in the most challenging areas. I think the way to do that is to have enhanced teacher status, a new qualification, which in return comes with a pay rise that recognises the incredible job these teachers do in challenging circumstances."
Scotland's chartered teacher programme was scrapped in 2012 in the wake of Professor Gerry McCormac's review of teacher employment in Scotland.
The review found that although many chartered teachers were professional and committed, "the widely held view is that the existing cohort of chartered teachers does not singularly represent the best teachers in Scotland".
Professor McCormac's report also criticised the scheme for having "no robust screening of applicants" and no specific duties attached to the role. This meant that chartered teachers were "paid more to undertake the same job they have always done, with no improved outcomes for children and young people", it said.
In her speech, Ms Dugdale insisted that those attaining the enhanced teacher grade would be required to share their skills and knowledge "as leaders of their profession".
However, a leading academic has questioned whether the scheme would have any impact on the attainment gap and asked how the first tranche of schools to benefit would be identified, given that most Scottish schools have mixed catchment areas.
Ms Dugdale acknowledged that there was a debate to be had about which schools would benefit initially. She said: "You have to make sure you pick the measurement accurately and in the best interests of the policy's intention. We would look to work with the different stakeholders involved, from unions to schools."
Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at the University of Edinburgh, said: "There is no conclusive evidence that financial incentives make people better teachers. If someone is a bad teacher, they are not going to become better by being paid more. If they are good, they probably want to be good because of a sense of ethical and educational commitment. I don't think a small salary increase is really relevant."
Professor Paterson also dismissed the idea that teachers needed a special qualification in order to drive up the attainment of disadvantaged pupils. Children from poor backgrounds were not a different species, he said.
"I am not convinced that the pedagogical requirements for teaching children living in poverty are any different in any fundamental way from teaching middle-class children. They are all children and they all learn in the same way," he added.
"We know what is required [to close the attainment gap] and the kinds of approaches that work. We don't need legislation to do it - as in the Education Scotland Bill - nor do we need special qualifications. What we need is a scheme by which what is known to work can be put in place."
But Professor Chris Chapman, director of the University of Glasgow's Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change, noted that the Chartered London Teacher scheme - which has a particular focus on challenging educational underachievement and disadvantage - had been a success. A similar initiative could be a sensible way forward, he said, adding: "It's about valuing and recognising teachers' talents and strengths."
The chartered teacher programme was introduced in August 2003. The idea was to keep talented teachers in the classroom by enabling them to earn more money by completing a programme of professional development at master's level, which they paid for.
However, the programme was scrapped by the Scottish government in 2012 in the wake of the McCormac review into teachers' conditions. Teachers already qualified as chartered teachers retained their pay, about pound;7,500 more than their colleagues at the top of the scale.
Kezia Dugdale is not the first Scottish Labour leader hopeful to vow to bring back the programme. When Jim Murphy ran for the leadership last year he said he would reintroduce chartered teacher status as part of a plan to tackle underachievement of children in poor areas.