Battle lines drawn as classroom elite under fire

21st October 2011 at 01:00
Chartered teachers were created as exemplars of professionalism, but critics say they have drawn higher salaries in return for little benefit. Now, as the McCormac review calls for the grade to be abolished, they are fighting for survival

The chartered teacher programme will not die quietly. Teachers from across Scotland met this month to plan the fight against abolition.

Their mood was defiant, angry and incredulous: Professor McCormac's review team cannot have done its homework properly, TESS heard time and again, or it would not have been as keen to consign chartered teachers to history.

Andrew McNeil, a primary teacher in Fife, spoke for many when he addressed the gathering of 100 chartered teachers: he was "angry" and "utterly disgusted" at the "neutering of professional learning".

Another teacher wrote anonymously on the Association of Chartered Teachers Scotland (ACTS) website about feeling "demoralised and undervalued", having spent over pound;7,000 - cancelling out the higher salary brought by chartered status - and hundreds of hours on studies over three years, despite having a young family.

"Is this the message we want to send out to young teachers?" she asked. "Be careful what you get involved in, because it may all come to nothing in a few years when the goalposts get moved once again."

But there was no sense of resignation at the chartered teachers' summit: heads nodded in approval when one delegate predicted there was "an almighty fight coming". There was much talk of forming local associations, just as headteachers do.

ACTS chair David Noble canvassed delegates on how to stand up to the McCormac review, and the association will respond formally next month.

The vast majority agreed that chartered teachers - criticised by McCormac for not always letting their employers know that they had attained such a status - should become more visible when communicating the benefits of their work. Other plans to emerge include greater involvement in teacher networks and research partnerships with universities. Chartered teachers could be seconded to roles that would "widen the impact of their accomplished teaching and enhanced professionalism", says Mr Noble.

Chartered teachers have powerful allies. The General Teaching Council for Scotland wryly observes that although McCormac "recognises the value of encouraging teachers to aspire to higher skills in pedagogical understanding and practice, it has, regrettably, suggested the abandonment of Scotland's only current vehicle to attest to their attainment".

EIS assistant secretary Drew Morrice told the Scottish Parliament's education committee last month: "If it is about improving pupil outcomes, chartered teachers have by and large delivered on that."

But headteachers and local authority bosses are digging trenches on the other side. School Leaders Scotland president Jim Thewliss told the same education committee he would "shed no tears" at the demise of chartered teachers: "The idea was good in theory but, in practice, it has not turned out as expected. There is no evidence that chartered teachers in schools have enhanced the quality of education."

A few feet away was East Ayrshire Council head of schools and soon-to-be Falkirk education director Andrew Sutherland, representing Cosla, who echoed a point made by McCormac: chartered status was a red herring, as there were plenty of teachers with and without it who were outstanding.

One academic at this month's summit bemoaned a schism peculiar to the Scottish psyche, where a liberal and progressive strain struggled with a judgmental, Calvinist tendency; it was encapsulated in the tension between chartered teachers and their bosses in schools and local authorities.

Gerry McCormac told MSPs that some chartered teachers kept their status quiet "lest they be asked to do further work". Zoe Williamson, academic secretary for the Scottish Educational Research Association, had a very different view: "It's not that chartered teachers are hiding away - it's quite often that their voices have been actively silenced." Teachers had to fit into traditional hierarchies to get a seat at the table, she said; principal teachers had more clout than chartered teachers.

Julie Wilson, a chartered teacher seconded from South Lanarkshire to Education Scotland, but speaking in a personal capacity, chimed with Dr Williamson: "It seems to me a particularly Scottish characteristic that we need people to know their place and not to get ideas above their station."

No less a figure than Education Secretary Michael Russell, in a speech last year, urged chartered teachers to stand up for themselves and "challenge your school's senior management team where. it is hampering the potential contribution you can make". He has been conspicuously less supportive of chartered teachers since the publication of the McCormac report.

In an article for the ACTS website, Highland chartered teacher Frances McKie said she did not blame individual managers and administrators, but "the inability of the hierarchical system of management in most secondary schools to acknowledge, include and usefully exploit the abilities and enthusiasm of their chartered teachers". Some delegates felt that their impact should be judged by someone steeped in the programme, that they should not have to cross their fingers for a sympathetic head.

Friction between heads and chartered teachers has been well-documented over the short life of the programme - but some point the finger of blame more directly at senior managers than at chartered teachers.

Stirling University researcher Alison Fox said last year that chartered teachers "enacted a democratic style of leadership which appeared to be more difficult for promoted members of staff". And more recently, Dundee University professor of education Brian Hudson, in a personal statement supporting the programme, pointed to problems such as a lack of clearly- defined roles and inconsistency between council areas. These issues, he said, had "more to do with failure in terms of policy and decision-making at a local level, and also with poor quality of leadership and management in those schools which have such problems".

McCormac's solution - to the exasperation of those at the summit - is for co-option of ambitious teachers into traditional hierarchies by a "more flexible use of the principal teacher grade".

Many argue that it is too early to judge the programme's success. It sprang from the 2001 teachers' agreement but only began in earnest in 2003; and it typically takes five or six years to complete one's studies. In May this year, there were 1,216 chartered teachers and another 2,800 working their way towards the grade. ACTS was only formed in 2008.

It is only now, argues ACTS vice-chair Dorothy Coe, that the programme is "reaching a critical mass".

One of the biggest gripes about chartered teachers over the years has been its "academic" emphasis, the accusation that working towards a masters is an airless pursuit, detached from the daily realities of a classroom. This, Dr Williamson told the summit, was a myth.

Educational research, once something that happened at a remove from teachers, is being shaped by chartered teachers and influencing the wider research community, she said; several "action research" papers by chartered teachers will be presented at next month's annual conference of the Scottish Educational Research Association.

Perth and Kinross secondary teacher Jeanette Forbes wrote on the ACTS website: "Instead of totting up hours, sitting through the worst forms of directed CPD, chartered teachers are required to constantly review their own professional development, be forward-thinking and propose new learning situations, which are then implemented for the benefit of pupils and schools."

Or, as one delegate put it, chartered teachers do not have a monopoly on good teaching, but they move from being "unconsciously to consciously competent"; their pedagogical rigour helps them understand why something works.

Terry Wrigley, visiting professor at Leeds Metropolitan University, was part of the working party which established the chartered teacher programme. He found "all sorts of layers of misunderstanding" in McCormac and its assertion that it had not yielded results. The programme was about shifting emphasis onto the quality of teachers, their values and their ability to reflect, rather than narrow targets, he said. It had helped Scotland distance itself from England's preoccupation with performance- related pay and move towards a more sophisticated view of teaching such as that found in Finland.

"Chartered teacher is a state of mind," wrote an anonymous contributor on the ACTS website.

Dr Williamson says they get "the opportunity to think in a different way" and can bring about - in the ubiquitous jargon - "transformative change".

Part of the programme's problem is proving how it can turn such elusive concepts into something tangible. McCormac observes that the absence of specific duties for the role of chartered teacher has resulted in some instances where staff are paid more for doing what they have always done.

But proponents believe the irony is that the McCormac review itself may have a problem with evidence - one which could be chartered teachers' saviour.

"The message came across fairly consistently that the chartered teacher scheme is not delivering for schools and young people," said Gerry McCormac at the Scottish Parliament last month.

Yet 75 per cent of those who submitted evidence wanted the scheme to continue: 38 per cent in its current form, 37 per cent in an amended way.

"Is it not the case that the `widely-held view' simply represents the opinions of the seven members of the review group?" asks Professor Hudson. "As such this does not represent evidence but rather a highly selective and most curious interpretation of the evidence."

David Hawker, a former director general of education in Wales, in an article for the journal Education Today, writes: "ACTS submitted credible evidence based on sound data; but McCormac prefers to draw conclusions from anecdotal evidence."

Or, as ACTS vice-chair Dorothy Coe puts it: "We might wish that the report and its recommendations provided even half the evidence of academic rigour or depth of professional thinking and understanding required of chartered teachers."

1,216 - chartered teachers in May 2011

2,800 - teachers working towards chartered status in May 2011

52,188 - teachers in Scotland in 2010

`More personal'

Research published by Glasgow and Stirling universities in September 2010 depicted chartered teachers as largely assured and innovative practitioners, who had undergone a "substantive alteration in their perception of what teaching is about".

But researchers found "a lot of residual hostility to the notion of having teachers recognised for excellence", perhaps a sign of the Scottish "I- kent-your-faither" mentality.

Chartered teachers were paying "far more attention" to what pupils did and said. They had "more personal, more rounded relationships" with pupils. Their work was characterised by: high levels of collaboration with colleagues; taking a strong lead in curricular innovation; and an influence beyond classrooms. There was evidence of impressive results in national assessment and good support of under-achieving pupils.

The report expressed concerns about chartered teachers' performance in their major projects: an over-reliance on fairly superficial before-and- after tests and surveys; critical reflection that was "relatively weak" in some projects and data being omitted if it did not fit the original question.

It was difficult to provide a definitive account of the impact made by chartered teachers, and no data existed to show how they compared to other teachers at a similar stage in their careers.

Giving teachers the confidence to try new ideas

One of the main criticisms in the McCormac report was that chartered teachers were "paid more to undertake the same job they have always done with no improved outcomes for children and young people".

These chartered teachers, and their managers, beg to differ:

Catherine Williams

A physics teacher at Holy Rood High in Edinburgh, Catherine Williams had done a PhD in medical physics before becoming a teacher 12 years ago - so the academic and research demands of the chartered teacher route did not frighten her. She had also done six months as a job-share principal teacher when her own PT was off work - and already knew that for her, the administrative and management side of a promoted post were less attractive than improving her classroom practice.

"I have always been a committed, hard-working and reflective teacher. However, the chartered teacher route has enabled me to harness those attributes and underpin my efforts with a sound educational rationale and increased confidence. This has led to deeper and more sustained change in my own practice and has enabled me to influence education beyond my own classroom, often in subtle ways, such as through dialogue and leading by example, and sometimes in more formal ways, such as leading a school improvement group," she says.

Lorna McGarty, her PT, endorses Dr Williams's evaluation: "It has made a difference to Catherine's teaching. She has much more confidence in trying out new ideas and those new ideas are picked up by the other staff in the department, so she's made a difference to the whole department's teaching."

Dr Williams's insights into Assessment is for Learning - one of her chartered teacher modules - have benefited the whole department. But Mrs McGarty does not believe that McCormac's proposal to give teachers the chance to apply for temporary promotions would have had the same impact as the chartered teacher programme in Dr Williams's case.

"She would still have been a very good teacher, but chartered teacher status has given her the confidence she would not have had without reading all the research and knowing she was on the right lines," says Mrs McGarty.

Duncan Mackay

A music teacher for 26 years, Duncan Mackay had already studied widely before becoming a chartered teacher in 2010. But it is that experience which he believes reinvigorated his teaching and has made a real difference to his pupils at Strathaven Academy in South Lanarkshire.

The programme he followed - at the University of the West of Scotland - gave him access to national and international educational research which improved his own knowledge and allowed him to introduce new courses into his school.

For S1 pupils, he has introduced a new topic on "space music", which has extensive interdisciplinary links, based on Holst's "Planet Suite". It has included teaching pupils how to play music using a graphic score, instead of the traditional notes and rhythm method; giving pupils the chance to compose their own scores using traditional instruments and non- instruments; describing the scientific properties of the planets, and opportunities for listening to music.

In a project for the upper school, Mr Mackay devised new end-of-topic listening tests. His 2011 exam results were impressive: of 34 Standard grade candidates, 31 gained credits, 21 at band 1; of seven Intermediate 2 candidates, four got A grades; of 17 Higher candidates, 12 got As, three got Bs and one a C; and of his two Advanced Higher candidates, one got an A and the other a C.

Liz Barr, acting headteacher of Strathaven Academy, says: "I think chartered teacher status has really worked for Duncan. He has put into practice the theory of what he has been researching and thinking and talking about. The children loved the idea of the Planet Suite."

Elizabeth Buie.

Original headline: Battle lines are drawn as the classroom elite come under fire

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