It may get binned, but I back the chartered teacher scheme

30th September 2011 at 01:00
The McCormac review recommended its discontinuation, but it deserves great recognition

The McCormac review of teacher employment in Scotland chooses an ambitious title: Advan-cing Professionalism in Teaching. To this observer it came as a surprise to note that, in the opinion of the review group, one of the ways of advancing the professionalism of teachers is to scrap the chartered teacher scheme, although it has been in existence for less than a decade.

When it was introduced, after a very extensive consultation and development exercise, and at considerable public expense, it was widely welcomed as a step in the professional enhancement of teaching: it was a way of recognising and financially rewarding accomplishment as a teacher, and it was endorsed by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) and others as representing a standard of professional achievement to which every teacher might aspire. Why, then, should the review recommend its discontinuation?

Several arguments were advanced to justify discontinuation: the scheme does not attract the "best" teachers; the insufficiently robust screening of applicants reduces the credibility of the programme; and extra salary is paid apparently without the obligation to undertake additional duties.

The absence of a formal role post-qualification is considered to be the most serious shortcoming, which, according to the review, astonishingly allows some to operate as closet chartered teachers, refusing to disclose their additional qualification for fear of having to meet higher expectations, a stance that is the very antithesis of what a chartered teacher should profess.

Conscious of the need for some model of professional progression for teachers, the review recommends that, to replace the chartered teacher, consideration should be given to "the creation of a system of professional recognition of teachers that demonstrates long-term, innovative classroom practice".

The universities and the GTCS might collaborate to "validate tiers of recognition that would be progressive and acknowledge CPD and wider pedagogic and education contributions by individuals".

That reads very like a watered-down version of the chartered teacher scheme and would, therefore, be open to most of the same objections. The absence of any financial incentive might even lead a harsh critic to dismiss the review's recommendation as an attempt to get the chartered teacher on the cheap.

Before the chartered teacher is consigned to the dustbin of educational history, can anything be said in its defence? Let us remind ourselves. The Standard for Chartered Teacher (SCT) was grounded in a major research study that included an analysis of the international evidence on accomplishment as a teacher. Every effort was made in an elaborate series of consultations to ensure that the SCT carried the confidence of teachers.

At its core was the requirement to adduce evidence of consistently high performance as a teacher in effecting improved outcomes for pupils. That capability conferred the entitlement to exercise professional leadership through supporting the professional development of colleagues, through participation in teacher education, through engagement in curriculum development and research, through contribution to professional debates, and in other ways.

Moreover, like the awards conferred in initial teacher education, the SCT was quality-assured to the highest international standards, having been professionally endorsed by the GTCS and academically validated by the universities. The standard called for the same close collaboration between universities and schools as in initial teacher education.

The aim was to generate a cadre of teachers who were leaders in teaching and learning; it was a means of empowering teachers, of raising their aspirations and of giving them ownership of their own professional development. While the SCT did not define a specific role, it delineated an explicit set of responsibilities for which chartered teachers were accountable.

There ought, therefore, to have been no ambiguity about what was expected of chartered teachers: they were obliged to act in line with the SCT; they had no right to pick and choose which aspects of the SCT to follow.

Arguably, if the chartered teacher scheme is considered to have failed, the blame should be imputed not to chartered teachers themselves or the SCT, but to those who had responsibility for the effective management of the professional expertise at their disposal.

There was no need to tie the SCT to a specific role in the management hierarchy of the school. Universities have readers and professors, many of whom have no specific managerial role. They would be less than ecstatic to learn that their contribution to the academic flourishing of universities should not be reflected in the remuneration system. Chartered teachers are the school equivalent of professors and readers.

However, if it proves impracticable to make the distinction between a role and a set of professional responsibilities, if we really are obliged to formalise the SCT as part of the school hierarchy, why not take a bold step that would make a master's level teaching profession more than merely a laudable aspiration? Why not stipulate that the SCT should be the framework for the regular professional review of teachers? In addition, why not make the achievement of the standard a requirement for anyone aspiring to a promoted post in a school, or work in teacher education, or in the inspectorate, or in any other relevant educational service? Why indeed not?

Professor Gordon Kirk was formerly dean of education and vice-principal at Edinburgh University. He is now academic secretary to the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers. He was involved in the development of the Standard for Chartered Teacher.

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