Should all teachers study for a Master’s Degree?

view of crowd of graduates with mortar board

Ahead of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET) conference in early November and the imminent election, an article was published in the TES which has caused much debate. According to the article, the University sector are proposing that all UK state-school teachers should be qualified to QTS level and provided with the opportunity to study for a government-funded master’s degree. It is suggested that the MA should be in education or in the subject that they teach in the classroom. Cited as a recruitment and retention tool for the teaching profession, it also suggests that the proposal will raise pupil performance and close gaps in school performance.

Raising the status of teaching

James Noble-Rogers, UCET’s executive director stated that: “It is time the political parties reaffirmed and strengthened their commitment to teacher professionalism. It is unacceptable that children in schools and students in colleges of further education can be taught by unqualified and untrained teachers. This has to change”.

Although I agree, offering free professional learning will invest in our profession and raise the status of teaching, the reality is that working conditions need to change in order to enable this.

As a school leader and classroom teacher of 18 years, it is only now as I step out of the pressures of being based full-time in a school and delivering daily in a classroom, that I have the time, energy and headspace to pursue the MA that I started in my RQT year and kept deferring as I could not juggle it with my day job.

The teaching profession is already under pressure

I also empathise with the outcry of comments on social media that our teaching profession is already under pressure, we are faced with a national shortage of graduates wishing to train to teach and our attrition rates are quite frankly embarrassing as we lose more teachers each year than we train. So the bigger question is that although I advocate professional development, funded study and reflective practice, is this suggestion putting a plaster on the problems our profession faces?

I find the emphasis on state-school teachers being trained to QTS level and needing Master’s Degrees to enhance their subject knowledge and their grounding in educational theory an interesting distinction. What about our colleagues in independent schools? Are those teachers also not entitled to this subsidised professional development? Do our colleagues in independent schools not also need further knowledge?   There is an increasing mobility between school phases, contexts and sectors, so why limit this development to one sector?

The newly published revised framework for ITTE and the Early Careers Framework raise the profile of the need to invest in our teachers, especially our Beginner Teachers (BTs), our Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) and our Recently Qualified Teachers (RQTs). Ongoing subject knowledge enhancement will of course positively impact our pupils.

With the 3 year (approximately 30% leave) and 5 year (approximately 50% leave) exit points for our teachers perhaps it is the  group of teachers in Years 3-5 we should be looking to retain and develop, incentivising them to stay in the profession and potentially step into Middle Leadership.

We know that we train teachers in the UK who leave teaching, who move to the independent sector or who move to international schools. What happens when they then want to transition back to state schools?

Questions to consider

This proposal feels like it is well-intended, but it also reeks of looking at our European competitors like the much-heralded Finland where all teachers complete a master’s degree before they start teaching, not alongside the daily grind. If workload, wellbeing, time and school funding are our major issues in the UK school system, is this proposal going to address any of those barriers or just add to the pressures on our classroom teachers?  Moreover, with the move of Initial Teacher Training and Education from university-led to school-led providers, with our trainees based in classrooms immediately and squeezing their academic reading on pedagogy and educational theory in around the demands of their classrooms, should our attention not be moved to focus on how we prepare and sustain our aspiring teachers for their careers as teachers in the profession?

I am left with more questions than answers in response to this proposal:

  • Is there evidence that shows the impact that a master’s degree has on retaining and developing teachers?
  • Would the money not be better spent on reducing the contact time of our current teachers to retain them and protect their workload and wellbeing?
  • Will a mandate help or should this be optional for those who it may be incentivised to stay?
  • Could this funded professional learning be a hook to attract the 250,000 qualified teachers who are no longer working in our schools to return?
  • Will there then be a handcuff of how many more years you need to serve as teacher in order to receive this training for free?

There is much to consider, especially the balance of workload and wellbeing, alongside the school budget issues we know are impacting our teachers.

You can find out which post-graduate programmes we offer at the School of Education here.

About the author

Hannah WilsonA former Teacher of English, Drama and Media Studies and an Executive Headteacher, Hannah is now Head of Secondary School Teacher Training at the University of Buckingham. She is a MAT Trustee and founder of #WomenEd and #LeanInGirlsUK. Hannah is a teaglo Champion. Connect with her on teaglo here.

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