Chartered teacher team's leadership is on the ball

29th January 2010 at 00:00
Scotland's superteachers get bad press, but give them their head for benefits all-round

Original paper headline: Chartered teacher team shows its leadership is on the ball

Imagine if everyone in Scottish education was asked the question - Are chartered teachers:

  • a) reflective professionals who innovate, promote learning and influence a whole school;
  • b) overpaid people with an inflated sense of their own importance; or
  • c) well-qualified teachers who can be trusted with management duties?
    • What do you think the likeliest answer would be?

      Since only 1 per cent of teachers are chartered, with a further 8 per cent going through the programme, "overpaid people" might well be the most popular answer. But if respondents were given a fourth option - "I haven't a clue what a chartered teacher is, does or is supposed to do" - it would almost certainly jump to the top of the poll.

      Even chartered teachers are fuzzy about it. The McCrone view was that chartered teachers would have an enhanced role in the classroom. "But what this means has always been vague and never fully fleshed out," says Lesley Stewart, who achieved the standard last year and teaches PE at Calderglen High in East Kilbride. "There's a big void."

      In an attempt to fill that void and bring clarity and consistency, the Scottish Government last year launched the revised Standard for Chartered Teacher, supported by a new code of practice from the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers. The reception was mixed.

      The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association claimed the new guidance gave headteachers carte blanche to load more responsibilities onto chartered teachers. The Educational Institute of Scotland said chartered teachers were practitioners, not managers, "and the code enshrines this original concept".

      These opposing interpretations of the same documents show that clarity has yet to be achieved. So what is a chartered teacher, how do they operate in a school, and in what ways does this differ from the efforts of their colleagues - and of their own pre-chartered selves?

      "The programme made you look at your classes and what you do with them," says Lesley Stewart. "Your teaching methods and outlook change. You see more of the whole picture. You're thinking constantly."

      Her colleague Stephen Odger, who also completed the three-year Stirling University course last year, puts it even more forcefully. "When they got us to take a hard look at ourselves, we realised we had thought we were better teachers than we actually were."

      "I did think I was a very good classroom teacher," agrees Ms Stewart. "My results were very good. But was I teaching to individual children in the class? No, I was teaching to a mass body."

      The transformation was gradual, she says. "Our first essay was about what you did as a classroom teacher and where you were in relation to the Standard for Chartered Teacher. I remember not understanding a lot of it and thinking `How am I ever going to be this in my classroom and that across the whole school?'"

      The course made the difference, says Mr Odger. "We got great support from our tutors."

      The other key source of support is school management, and the Calderglen contingent was luckier than many, says Ms Stewart. "People on our course were getting no support, objections from their management and hurdles placed in their way at every turn.

      "It wasn't just a few, and it seemed especially difficult in primaries, where teachers taught to ask questions weren't popular with their management. We got help and encouragement from ours from the start - and in return, we're expected to play a role across the school."

      This whole-school contribution from chartered teachers is a key concern of those pushing for clearer definitions of their role, rights and responsibilities. Management suspicion might well diminish if benefits to the school, and not just the individual, were better defined.

      The whole-school impact of the Calderglen High chartered teachers, currently six, with a further 22 on the programme (a fifth of the staff) is recognised but evolving, says headteacher Tony McDaid.

      "We're clear that it is about leadership and not management. So the practical impact they have on learning and teaching methodologies is huge. What they've learned has been rolled out, not just within their faculty, but throughout the school."

      One route is through in-service sessions delivered by chartered teachers. "We're looking at active learning across the school," says Mr McDaid. "So we got Lesley in, as an experienced chartered teacher, to deliver in- service sessions on strategies, techniques and the latest research."

      Another structure to ensure whole-school impact is the recently-formed Calderglen High chartered teachers' group, which has the twin aims of support for teachers on the programme and wider dissemination of what they learn.

      "Once that group really gets going, I expect it to have a strong voice on a number of issues," says Mr Odger. "And management will be looking for it to provide specialist CPD for other staff."

      Another area where chartered teacher perspectives bring whole-school benefits is behaviour management, says Mr Odger. "We run a group every morning instead of a registration class. You give them strategies to avoid trouble. When they come back and tell you they worked, that's really rewarding."

      The connection between behaviour management and being a chartered teacher goes back to the research, explains Lesley Stewart. "On the course, they constantly talked about individual children's needs and treating them all differently - rather than thinking `These kids are causing havoc - how can we stop them?'."

      The effect is similar with mainstream classes, says Mr Odger. "We have been very black and white. The kids behave better because we're teaching them how, rather than telling them what to do and giving them a rollicking when they don't."

      The classroom projects the two Calderglen teachers completed on the course were very different - peer and self-assessment in first year and improving motivation in Higher theory. But the lessons they took away from their action research were similar, they say.

      "I used to batter content into pupils until they could regurgitate it," says Mr Odger. "I was teaching them to remember, not to understand. Now I get them to think and discuss before they write anything."

      This is initially uncomfortable, he says. "It can mean you progress slightly slower through the course. But the quality of the work they produce is so much better. They gain confidence in working that way, as you gain confidence in letting them.

      "It is in the back of your mind, though, that management is going to ask what happened to your results, and when you say you were trying a new method of teaching, they'll say `You won't be doing that next year, pal."

      This didn't happen, and both teachers are now committed to the new way of teaching, says Ms Stewart. "We came from the chalk-and-talk era, where I make the decisions and you do what you're told. Education is about discussions, points of view, the child at the centre.

      "The hardest thing is to stand back and let them take responsibility. But I'm a much better teacher now. I used to reach maybe 60 per cent of pupils in a class. Now I can tell you what makes every child work, what they will respond to, what I'm wasting my time with. It's a whole different way of working."

      People want to be better teachers, says head Tony McDaid. "If they get to see chartered teachers' good practice, it benefits the whole school. Ours have never said it's just about their own classes. It is about sharing what they know and what they have learned. That encourages people. It makes us all better teachers."

      Primary role

      Professional autonomy is a source of tension for chartered teachers. Educated to reflect on classroom practice and learning across a school, they might be given the opportunity by management to act on this, and they might not.

      For chartered teacher Mandy Allsopp, it is still work in progress, she says, even though she completed the programme in 2007. "I only returned to the classroom - at Livingston Village Primary (West Lothian) - last August, after being seconded to a development post with the authority, followed by two years tutoring education students at Edinburgh University.

      "I am finding it difficult. Coming back to the classroom is great, because it's important to keep in touch with reality. But there are tensions about where I fit as a chartered teacher. I'm working with management to define that more clearly."

      The disparity in viewpoints is illustrated - and exacerbated - by the words used to describe a chartered teacher role. "I had a meeting with our management, initiated by me, to talk about what I could develop for the school," says Ms Allsopp.

      "Soon they were talking about what `my remit' would be. That was interesting because there's nothing about a remit for chartered teachers. Rather than being given the freedom to take something forward, it became about what they wanted you to do.

      "That's hard. You're coming forward with enthusiasm and expertise, and before you know it, it's taken away from you."

      The ill-defined role of the chartered teacher makes such tensions with management almost inevitable, she believes. "They feel your questioning as criticism, rather than part of a professional dialogue. We are working with our management, though, and we are making headway."

      Being given time and space, by school or authority, to develop ideas for the benefit of the whole school, would be a step forward for chartered teachers, she believes. "At the moment, anything we do is added on to our workload rather than being built in."

      A passion for learning and teaching motivated her initial decision to take the chartered teacher route, says Ms Allsopp. "I felt management could get caught up with meetings and paperwork, and become quite detached from the learning life of the school.

      "But now I've a better grasp about being a leader of learning, I do wonder if the management route might be the most effective. Either that or an authority could create roles for chartered teachers that would make better use of our expertise."

      The course itself was rewarding and thought-provoking, she says. "It made me more focused, taught me to evaluate learning and teaching, and to look at what I'm doing and why. And it gave me the tools to do all that.

      "Chartered teachers are enthusiastic people. We should be making better use of them."

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