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Master's class

More teachers are opting to work and study at the same time. Nick Morrison finds out why

Your A-levels are a distant memory, you've got your degree and teacher training qualification - your days of studying are behind you. Or are they? Postgraduate courses are now considered a key route for improving classroom teaching, so much so that the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) is investing about pound;20 million annually in them.

Universities are increasingly tailoring courses to meet schools' needs and the TDA wants to get the message across that there is a link between what happens outside the classroom and pupil performance.

"These courses are about helping teachers to be questioning and critical,"

says Alison Kitson, from the TDA, "and the impact on pupils will be not just in exam results - it could be that behaviour is transformed or pupils get their homework in."

At Patchway Community College, in Almondsbury near Bristol, almost a third of the teaching staff are studying for a master's degree. The University of the West of Eng-land (UWE), Bristol, provides an outline programme, allowing teachers to choose areas of special interest. On-site support comes from a university-accredited tutor based at the school. Course fees are waived in exchange for Patchway offering placements to its PGCE students and Alan Howson, headteacher, tries to ensure the timetable gives teachers time to do coursework during the school day.

There are some evening and weekend tutorials, but Alan's approach seems to be succeeding. So far about 27 of his 85 teaching staff have signed-up to a master's.

Stephanie Thomas, a 31-year-old French and German teacher, has just completed her MA in education, which she started in her second year of teaching.

It has had a direct impact on her job. Much of her research was on helping her pupils become more independent. Her dissertation was on developing thinking skills through modern languages. "I feel more confident in my classroom practice now," she says. "It has changed my teaching, so it is more challenging for the pupils. I'm always looking for ways of improving."

Emily Bottell had also only been at Patchway a year when she enrolled on her master's course. The English and drama teacher is looking at ways of raising achievement among boys for her research project.

"It's given me the confidence to find solutions to issues other members of staff have," says the 27-year-old "and because there are so many of us doing the course there's always somebody in the school to talk to."

Go back to the books

In 2005-06, 18,811 teachers took postgrad courses, around 4 per cent of teachers. For 2006-07, that figure is expected to rise to around 26,000, or 6 per cent, with 7 per cent seen as a realistic long-term target.

UWE's courses are largely delivered at school, but also include tutorials, typically two hours a week for the first two years and eight times a year in the final year.

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