A master's matters for teachers - but in what subject?

Plenty of teachers have a master's degree - but should this ideally be in education or your subject specialism, asks Sam Jones

Master's degrees: students wearing mortar boards

Recent calls by the University Council for the Education of Teachers’ (UCET) for a “reinvigoration of teacher professionalism” caused a Twitter storm, with many teachers outraged by the “government insisting” that everyone does a master’s degree

This made me wonder if they had read the piece or just the headline. I read the article, but when I went back and looked at the press release from UCET I had more serious questions.

My first thought upon reading it was that UCET may mention the FE sector, but does it really understand it?  It calls for “a re-introduction of the requirement that all teachers in publicly funded schools and further education colleges have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS)”, adding: “Learners have the right to be taught by properly qualified professionals.”

What about QTLS?

Yet surely the organisation should be aware that the further education sector has its own version of the status, Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS)? It has legal parity with QTS, as the government website makes clear: “If you have QTLS status and membership of the Society for Education and Training, you will be eligible to work as a qualified teacher in schools in England.”

This suggests to me that perhaps UCET isn’t as up to date on teacher development in the FE sector as it could be, or perhaps UCET sees QTS as the stronger of the two qualifications. I think the question what makes a “properly qualified” teacher in the FE sector could keep us all busy and debating for years.  


News: Make master's compulsory for teachers, say universities

Profile: Meet Sam Jones: Star teacher and FE research pioneer

Background: Why Ofsted's framework won't work for history teachers


The focus on the master’s level qualifications could be as useful to the FE sector as it is to other sectors in education.  I agree with UCET’s statement that “a commitment to teaching becoming an all master’s-qualified profession…would mark the biggest step change in quality and status since it became an all-graduate profession in the 1970s”. Although whether the sector has the funding to cover these aspirations is more questionable. 

Achievement of master’s level qualifications within the sector is fairly common, although I think they are used as professional development by experienced teachers rather than an expansion to initial teacher education, which I believe is the right way to go.

Teacher training: Subject mastery?

An interesting debate for further education professionals would be whether a master’s should be in education or one’s subject specialism. My college supports experienced teachers to undertake a master’s degree in subjects useful to the development of the teacher and the curriculum and, I am proud to say, it also supports people like me undertaking a PhD. This is something that the UCET statement really opens up for me: what types of knowledges are useful when teaching in further education?

I have to say I am not entirely sure that focusing solely on academic knowledge is going to provide “properly-qualified professionals” within the sector.  My underlying concern is that just as I have argued that Ofsted framework is consciously or unconsciously underpinned by what might be termed “academic” models of knowledge, so are these UCET recommendations.  This ignores, or underplays, the fact that policy around the sector is calling for “a clear line of sight to work” (McLoughlin, 2013) and asks the sector to “meet the needs of industry and prepare students for work”.

This, for me, raises questions about where this knowledge is situated.  Is it in master’s-level “academic” qualifications or is it in industry?  What do teachers in the sector need in order to provide well-qualified and highly-skilled students – "know how" or "know that"?  I can’t imagine that the answer is a binary one, but it is something that it would be great for the sector and bodies such as UCET to start considering in relation to further education.   

This call for a reinvigoration of the teaching profession, I think, necessitates both UCET and the FE sector to start to ask themselves some important questions.  Does UCET really have the handle on FE that it thinks it does?  For the sector, I think there are questions to be asked about what a “properly qualified professional” is and where the sector’s knowledge is located.

Sam Jones is a lecturer at Bedford College, founder of FE Research Meet and was FE teacher of the year at the Tes FE Awards 2019

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you