Why teachers need to carry on learning

Excellence in the classroom requires the very best training. So why has funding for the master's in teaching been cut?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It will have been difficult for those in the world of education not to have noticed the new Government's statements about raising the quality and status of teaching. Many people feel strongly that making teaching a master's level profession would help to achieve this goal. We know from research that master's level study is important not only for raising the status and professionalism of teaching but also in helping people to become better teachers.

Master's level teacher education, delivered in partnership between universities, schools and other partners, really does have a transformational impact on teachers, their colleagues and their schools. So it was disappointing to see that the Government has removed funding for new entrants to the Master's in Teaching and Learning (MTL). What the education community is now concerned about is the future of other master's programmes for teachers. The value that master's degrees bring – along with other accredited qualifications such as postgraduate diplomas – must be recognised by policy-makers and school leaders, and teachers should be encouraged and supported in engaging in further study.

While initial teacher training provides teachers with the critical skills to succeed in the classroom, a master's degree builds on those by encouraging teachers to follow critical, reflective, inspirational and innovative approaches to education and to take risks.

A master's qualification allows teachers the space for in-depth investigation of their subject, which not only instils them with greater subject knowledge but with wider professional knowledge. Teachers with master's qualifications have a better understanding of pedagogy, allowing them to continually improve their own teaching techniques. The qualification empowers educators to try out new strategies and to evaluate their success on classroom performance, which can help to breathe new life into schools.

Those teachers who study at master's level lead by example: a 2008 report into postgraduate professional development showed that teachers with a postgraduate education qualification were more confident in helping and supporting their colleagues and were engaged more effectively with other staff in professional discussions. All of which fosters a community that encourages sharing, discussion and the adoption of new ideas and approaches.

We welcomed Michael Gove's acknowledgements of the importance of continuing professional development last year. Indeed, accredited CPD is essential for making sure that the generation of teachers we have now, and those being trained to enter the profession, are the best they can possibly be. And encouraging teachers to take further postgraduate qualifications helps schools to foster a sustained relationship between CPD and professionalism. For CPD to really have an impact, master's degrees need to be a focus for schools and teachers.

The benefits of employing master's qualified teachers extend beyond individual circumstances. In the experience of universities and the schools they work closely with, teachers with higher qualifications are better at disseminating new techniques and information to colleagues. At a time when education policy is shifting drastically, our schools will also benefit from having colleagues at the cutting edge of educational changes. Teachers who have completed a relevant master's degree are better equipped to identify the connections between public education policy, research findings and classroom delivery.

One school that has recognised the huge benefit of higher level qualifications for teachers is the City Academy, Bristol. Around a quarter of its teachers are currently undertaking master's level or PhD qualifications. As is often the case with schools leading the way in encouraging further academic study among their teachers, City Academy has worked in close partnership with the University of the West of England to waive fees for its master's programme. The school is so committed to further qualifications for its teachers that it delivers some master's units "in-house" and supports teachers by reviewing university work to be submitted and offering guidance and day-to-day support. Such is the value the school places on the discipline of further study that it asks those teachers who are not studying for a further qualification to complete a professional investigation or piece of research each year.

With further qualifications at master's level so beneficial to the individual teacher as well as to schools and pupils, it is disappointing that the Government's recent reforms have seen funding cuts for the classroom-based Masters in Teaching and Learning, despite previous suggestions that teachers should have more opportunity to study master's degrees. Now is the time to make sure that other master's programmes continue. Schools should be following the example of the City Academy, Bristol, in encouraging more teachers to engage in further study. In fact, UCET would like to see this initiative taken one step further: teaching should over time become an all master's-level profession.

Establishing teaching as a master's qualified profession would represent a step change comparable to when teaching became an all-graduate profession in the 1970s. Teaching standards would be raised, and the UK would fall more in line with countries perceived to be leading the way in education, such as Finland.

And it wouldn't be hard to do. Most PGCE programmes already include 60 master's credits, which will facilitate the progress of new teachers into a full master's. Rather than requiring all new teachers to have master's degrees, the Government could introduce a chartered teacher programme under which teachers achieve chartered status on completion of a relevant master's degree, and retain that status by contributing to the training and ongoing professional development of other teachers, and keeping up to date with their own CPD – much like other chartered professions such as accountancy.

Essentially, by allowing and funding teachers to take a master's level qualification, we're injecting new thinking into our schools and making our teachers the best they can be. It's hard to believe that before the 1970s, teaching wasn't an all-graduate profession. One day, we hope the same can be said for the days before all classrooms were led by an all master's qualified profession. The Government needs to ensure nothing in its current review of CPD funding jeopardises that.

James Noble-Rogers is executive director of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers. www.ucet.ac.uk