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It doesn't take a masters to be inspiring

Matthew MacIver, the chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, suggested recently (TESS, April 28) that Scotland should follow the example of Finland, Latvia and Estonia in moving towards every teacher having a higher degree.

As more teachers follow the university route to chartered status, masters degrees will become more common, as this comes with the qualification.

The Audit Scotland report on A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century found that 74 per cent of teachers in their first three years in the profession considered they were likely to participate in the chartered teacher programme at some time in the future.

At present, all chartered teachers 4must study at least one 15-point postgraduate module. Having completed this, they decide whether to continue with the university route (perhaps claiming up to half of the qualification by Accreditation for Prior Experiential Learning) or to go through the APEL route offered by the GTC.

Many of those on the GTC route have already gained a masters and a majority have completed some postgraduate modules in addition to chartered teacher module 1. Some are unhappy because their postgraduate qualification does not automatically transfer to chartered teacher accreditation.

The GTC route is intended for experienced teachers, who produce a portfolio of evidence and a 10,000 word reflective report. This report must be written at postgraduate standard.

What does that mean? Is it about the style of writing or is it about use of referencing conventions or is it perhaps about what one candidate described as "making your writing sound intelligent"? And does being able to write in this way make you a better teacher? The answer has to be no, at least not to any significant extent.

Postgraduate writing is not just about producing writing that sounds intelligent. It is about understanding what others have written, comparing and contrasting different points of view and then using these to work out your own position.

It is about research too, understanding why different research designs might give rise to different conclusions, and about understanding research better because you have had the experience of doing your own.

And for chartered teacher qualifications, as with all practice-based postgraduate qualifications, postgraduate writing is about reflective practice, the ability to take a step back from our day-to-day teaching, reflect on it in depth and then move on to improve it.

So, will these masters degrees make us better teachers?

We have all known inspiring and talented teachers who either had no interest in postgraduate qualifications or would have found them extremely difficult to achieve.

Conversely we have all met teachers for whom no amount of postgraduate qualifications would have solved their underlying problems.

Teaching is about communication, about caring and developing in children a passion for learning. These are not necessarily things that we learn through leaping the hurdles of postgraduate qualifications. However, for many teachers, good postgraduate study can revive or develop these qualities.

Like many of us, I was a reflective practitioner before I ever encountered the phrase. I know that both studying for an MEd and preparing a chartered teacher submission have made me a better teacher. My experience is common to many.

My own route to chartered teacher status was through APEL offered by the GTC, because it allowed me to develop a submission around my own experience, it was faster and it was cheaper. I used a piece of masters research in my claim and I was able to make use of skills and understanding gained through postgraduate study.

The GTC route was originally planned to close in 2008, but I hope it will continue to be an option after that. There are teachers who will already have completed a masters degree by the time they reach the top of the salary scale, when they are allowed to embark on the chartered teacher programme. Why should they be denied the opportunity to make their claim through accreditation?

If there is to be a move towards an all-masters teaching profession, we should reward those who are prepared to study at this level, at any time in their career.

Anne McSeveney is a chartered teacher at Braidwood Primary in Carluke, South LanarkshireIf you have any comments, email

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