A kick up the career
The first graduates of the London Institute of Education's Master of Teaching were awarded their degrees in March. It is the first qualification of its kind in the UK. M Teachs is taught in Australia, Canada and in Scotland, but these replace PGCE and are full-time. Last month's graduates are all practising teachers, and most are newly qualified. And they are unnervingly enthusiastic.
Meet the super people
Ambrose Hogan, at the Greycoat Hospital Church of England girls' school in Westminster pumps my hand, saying that studying for M Teach "changed me".
There is a theoretical deficit in the PGCE, he says. "It provides you with the tools for the job of teaching, but these can get a bit tired by your third year of teaching."
Ambrose was the star student, commended for his dissertation on girls'
"Don't make me sound too worthy," pleads Ella Dickson, a maths teacher at Acland Burghley school in Tufnell Park, north London. She graduated in mathematics and philosophy from Oxford in 2001, having studied Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell's symbolic logic. The boyfriend she met at Oxford has a high-paid job in the City, but Ella chose the classroom because children "deserve good teachers".
Since finishing her PGCE a year ago, Ella finds she needs to be stretched.
She is Acland Burghley's gifted and talented co-ordinator, "interactive whiteboard champion" and a contributor to Teachers' TV, but she missed the academic challenge. For her dissertation she wrote a report on problem-solving in maths, which was as much about teaching problem-solving as it was about solving problems. Management does not attract her - she wants to work in the classroom as "an excellent teacher".
The excellence set
Being an "excellent teacher" is not a subjective assessment. From September 2006 you can be assessed under the excellent teacher scheme, which aims to redistribute salary points from those awarded for management responsibilities to points for "effective teaching and learning"; they will probably be known as "RTL points".
The idea of the teaching and learning' reforms is popular with the students and lecturers on the Institute's M Teach. Jon Pickering, the course leader, sees them as the change in the outside world that justifies the new qualification: "It's all about excellent teachers," he says.
For the Department for Education and Skills, recreating a career structure for a job that seems de-professionalised is a pressing issue. Creating differentiation between teachers is a means of persuading them to excel.
Paying extra for management responsibilities gave incentives to people to retreat from the classroom. The excellent teachers scheme aims to redress that balance.
The Teacher Training Agency has wanted to see the profession become more research-based since 1997. Now many local education authorities have worked masters degrees into their continuing professional development programmes, with work done as part of the school's development plan being accredited towards the MA.
Not all about money
But it's not all about career development. Pandora Kreizman took up the MA in media studies five years after qualifying as a teacher. She needed a project to focus on, because "I was really miserable at work. It wasn't really about finding a new job," she says, "but it did make me more confident", especially as she was expanding into film studies. The lecturers were mostly pretty good, she thought, except the one who kept recommending his own books.
The graduates of the institute's M Teach are all demonstratively dismissive of the idea that they might make more cash, as if that was an unworthy motivation. Jenny Pole, from Ladbroke Grove junior school, does check herself by saying that she has already got some management points as a spin-off from her dissertation on ICT and learning English. Mikki Burns and Mark Feeley teach in Essex, where the training ladder has fewer rungs.
Mikki is sceptical about the increased financial rewards for excellent teaching.
Such scepticism has some justification. Despite the expansion of higher education, social mobility is less than it was 50 years ago. If everyone excels equally, then we are all in the same position as before.
But, if everyone cannot be a winner, does education not help individuals to get on? Economists find that your qualifications matter in some areas, such as law and business management, where they lead to higher earnings. The bad news is that teaching is not one of those areas. According to labour market research, a teaching degree will actually reduce income on average for men, while, for women, it increases it only by an average of 5 per cent. Perhaps the relatively unrewarding results from teaching qualifications explains the popularity of MAs.
But, more tellingly, the attraction of the MA is as much about the lack of rewards in teaching as it is about the potential for rewards in pay. It is a cruel profession that demands intellectual contribution, but does not always give intellectual stimulus. For many who go into teaching, the MA is as much about escaping the lowering horizons of the classroom as it is about raising them.
Ambrose Hogan is having none of that, though. There is no point moaning about government policy, he thinks: teachers have to make it their own. It is a leadership thing. Studying was hard. "While everyone else is dipping into Peter Ackroyd, I had to choose to look at another report," he says.
And for light reading? "I've just picked up a copy of the first Kinsey Report."
MAs: CAN I LIVE WITHOUT ONE?
The Master of Arts is one up from a BA, on the way to an M.Phil or even a Ph.D. Everybody is getting one. The number of MA and MSc students rose by 9 per cent to 115,000 between 2002-03 and 2003-04. You can study anything from arboriculture to zoology. Teachers are not missing out: 9,000 postgraduate qualifications other than PGCE were awarded in 2003-04, up 2 per cent from the previous year.
Where can I go to study one?
MAs in education are taught everywhere. You can do an MA in PE at London Metropolitan University. There's one in inclusivity in the performing arts at Middlesex (in association with the Chicken Shed Theatre Company), or you can do early childhood studies at the University of East London in Barking.
Tell me why I should start one?
You can take part in challenging, teaching-based research. With the expansion of higher education, a first degree is nothing special. You do not stop thinking when you leave college, so why stop studying? You can get help from your local authority, and even get credits for work done at school. It will make you a better teacher. And it will help your career.
And why I shouldn't?
It's a long time to extend your education. It is just a hobby, dressed up in a gown, listening to lecturers pursuing their own hobbyhorses. You have to assess whether it will it make you more saleable, or just cost you time and money? Is it not time to let go of student life? You can't drink five pints of lager in the student bar and teach from 8.45am to 4.00pm the next day.