Education Quandary: Will making teachers study for a Masters degree really improve the quality of teaching?
Thursday 15 April 2010
It might. I am convinced that improving teacher training is the single most important thing we can do to make better schools. But I have doubts about whether the Masters degree in teaching and learning, about to be piloted among some newly qualified teachers, is the right way to go about it.
These centre around whether a standardised qualification can ever be flexible enough to meet individual teachers' needs, and whether asking new teachers to undertake research, as part of this qualification, is the best use of their time and energy. I'm also concerned that the level of funding falls between two stools.
On the one hand, it doesn't come anywhere near that for top-quality Masters programmes, so to talk about "MBAs for teachers", as the Government has done, is disingenuous. On the other, the £30m allocated to the programme so far could have gone a long way towards providing a much-improved, flexible and targeted professional development programme for all teachers. I'm also worried that, yet again, this is an idea we've snitched from sainted Finland, in the belief that it will somehow give us the same kind of good schools that they have there, even though all kinds of other things are different about that country's education system.
But maybe I'm wrong on all counts. If the ultimate goal of an all-Masters profession gives teachers the status they deserve, and imbues them with improved professional skills then that will be very good news for all schoolchildren.
I teach at a university and some of my younger colleagues have spent their whole lives in school and university. They hold PhDs (having gained a Masters along the way) and spend most of their time writing academic papers that are hardly read. They have no practical experience and nobody has taught them how to control a class.
Worse, they cannot bring themselves down to the level of the average undergraduate, so teaching and communication is a problem. Far from improving the quality of teaching, insisting that all teachers hold a Masters will completely destroy it.
Maybe some secondary teachers would benefit from a Masters, but if the Government is expecting nursery and primary teachers to study for one, too, they will quickly lose some of the best people from the profession. Teachers of younger children need completely different kinds of skills. To put them in an academic straitjacket will mean many of them leave.
I studied for an educational Masters, specialising in curriculum and instruction. After 10 years in the profession, it reinvigorated my teaching and increased my confidence. But I studied for it online, and I don't understand how practising teachers can undertake campus-based postgraduate courses. Pupils will suffer if teachers are always out of school, unless classes are scheduled at night, which is tough for those with family and other personal commitments.
My son is expected to get AAAA* in his A-levels, but has been rejected by medical schools at Cambridge, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and St Andrews. Is this an anti-English issue? If so, he would have applied to other English universities. Ironically, although we live in Essex, we are Scottish.
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