If all teachers were qualified to masters-level, would this increase the status of teachers and the profession?
The masters in teaching and learning (MTL), launched last April, is a three-year, classroom-based, professional development programme for teachers. Currently available, as part of a pilot phase, to newly qualified teachers (NQTs) and newly appointed heads of departments of 'challenging schools' in the North West of England, the MTL is being hailed by the Government as a way of raising the status of teachers and ensuring that they get the recognition they deserve. In time, the Government expects the qualification to be available to all teachers, and that teaching would become a masters-level profession.
The new masters
The MTL is described by the TDA as being similar to the traditional masters programmes in that it is based on developing research-based skills of enquiry and professional skills, but different in how the course is funded and delivered. The MTL is fully funded by the Government. Schools will be given £6.8 k per participant to pay for cover for a 'coach' and for the training and development needs of the individual. The coach, a more experienced teacher in the same school, will be a mentor to the teacher on the course.
What is also different about this masters course is the involvement of the universities delivering it. In each of the nine economic regions of England, universities have come together to form consortia to develop a common programme that will be taught across all the universities in the region. The MTL will have had to have satisfied the teaching committees of all the universities in a region to be accredited.
Accreditation of CPD
Few chemistry teachers would disagree with the importance of continuous professional development in their careers and there are many opportunities around the country for this, including a host of courses run by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). However as Miranda Stephenson, programme director of the National Science Learning Centre (NSLC) in York told Education in Chemistry, 'too many teachers have difficulty getting out of their schools to do these CPD programmes, a situation made worse by the interpretation of heads of the Department for Children, Schools, and Families' (DCSF) 'rarely cover' policy. The aim of this policy was to ensure that such activities were planned for, not stopped, and that teachers only stepped in for colleagues on the 'rare' occasion when someone was taken ill and there in no time to get a supply teacher. So there is a problem here. I believe that if the teaching profession wants to have the same status as other professions, then professional development and some form of assessing it are essential'.
For some time now Stephenson has been looking to accredit teachers for their engagement in professional development. The MTL and other masters programmes, she adds, provides an opportunity for doing this. By structuring their CPD course in such as way that universities recognise it as being at masters level, teachers would be able do the 30-credit module in place of one of the modules in the MTL or indeed other masters programmes. The York CPD module is also currency for the Science Council's professional designation of chartered science teacher (CSciTeach). To qualify for this award science teachers must have an honours degree in a science subject plus a masters-level in pedagogy, eg an MEd or MTL, or have reached an equivalent level through experience and doing top-up courses in pedagogy.
What value, accreditation?
But do science teachers value accreditation? Is it perhaps indicative of their view that only 120 science teachers have been awarded CSciTeach since its launch in 2006? According to Ali Orr, deputy registrar at the Science Council, 'The aims of this award were two-fold: to give recognition to teachers as being part of the science community, and to recognise that it is the balance between pedagogy and subject knowledge that makes a good science teacher. The Science Council is currently doing a review of CSciTeach to find out the extent to which there is a market for it'.
What about the MTL - is this something teachers feel will make a difference to the teaching and learning of their students? Chris George, head of chemistry at the Royal Latin School in Buckinghamshire, told Education in Chemistry, 'I'm not convinced accreditation is valuable to teachers. Neither am I convinced that NQTs would have the time to work on this [MTL] qualification. There is so much for them to take on in their NQT year that I am not sure what another qualification will do for them other than distract them from their primary role which is to teach'.
And what do teachers think about the aspiration to make teaching a masters-level profession? Keith Taber, University of Cambridge, told Education in Chemistry, 'This could be a positive thing if it helps to increase the status of teachers and teaching. Study at postgraduate level is important for teachers because both knowledge in their subject and in education moves on, and they need to be able to understand and evaluate new research to inform their own teaching. However, such an initiative would also reduce the pool of strong applicants - so whereas graduates with a IIii used to be welcome in teaching, our standard expectation for M-level courses, is a minimum of a IIi. This is not an issue in many subjects, but could be in subjects such as chemistry and physics where teacher recruitment is an issue'. It's worth noting, too, that many PGCE courses provide students with the opportunity to gain masters-level credits.
The next election may have the final say in whether the MTL has a future or not.