Pity the fledgling teacher

21st March 2003 at 00:00
At a crucial time in their careers the new wave of talent are about to run into a brick wall when they start to look for promotion, says Peter Wright

N a world where the staffrooms increasingly resemble the social areas of eventide homes, my school is different. In recent years, a number of posts have become vacant and a decision was taken to recruit that rare breed, the younger teacher. Consequently, the school is fortunate in having the services of a cadre of excellent classroom practitioners who retain their idealism and optimism. Well, most of the time. They are still teachers after all.

Younger colleagues display qualities which are sometimes quite humbling.

Impressive classroom displays of coursework for pupils to aspire to, learning activities which motivate, organisational skills which expose my own efforts for the irrational fumblings which they of times are. I freely admit I have blatantly copied ideas and practices from these relatively inexperienced teachers. Old dogs it seems can be taught new tricks.

There is only one flaw in this virtuous spiral. Time does not stand still and the first few of this new wave of talented teachers are approaching a crucial point in their careers. They are rapidly nearing the top of the basic scale and with that will come a new perspective. They will face the prospect of maintaining their current optimism and commitment without the associated thrill of an increase in salary. It is also their misfortune that they are approaching this juncture at a time when, despite the best efforts of the teaching unions, the possibility of achieving a promoted post in a secondary school may be significantly diminished.

The chartered teacher post was proposed by the McCrone committee as a response to this problem "in order to recognise and reward excellence in the classroom and encourage professional development within the profession".

Alas, a silence has settled over the whole chartered teacher programme and those whispers which do emerge are not encouraging. There are rumours that teachers will now be required to fund their own progress through the programme to the extent of pound;500-pound;600 a module. Thus, progress to the top of the chartered teacher scale might require an investment of several thousand pounds from one of my younger colleagues. The salary increase obtained is likely to be less than the sum invested.

When the additional effort required is taken into account, I suspect that even the keenest of them will be less than enthusiastic in their view of the new post.

This scenario would be daunting enough for teachers in my position - narrowly solvent thanks to a moderately generous salary increase coinciding with a mortgage in relative decline. The prospect will be altogether different for a young teacher, probably still encumbered by significant student debt and struggling to get a foothold in the current housing market.

In the aftermath of the "21st century agreement", I was optimistic for my younger colleagues. The Gordian knot of Scottish education - how to retain good teachers in the classroom without inventing spurious and divisive incentives - had been cut in pieces by the chartered teacher post, "open to all experienced classroom teachers". Now it seems that my colleagues have been sentenced to undergo the labours of Sisyphus instead.

Sod the classical allusions. Let's be blunt. It's a damned disgrace. My talented, competent and committed young colleagues deserve far better than to be treated like this. More important perhaps, if the chartered teacher post becomes yet another divisive and dismal charade, Scottish education will be the loser.

Peter Wright teaches at Broxburn Academy.

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