Career Clinic

17th February 2012 at 00:00
This week, Professor John Howson answers questions about master's degrees and kick-starting a stalled career

Choosing a masters

I am looking for a university in the UK that offers a master's degree programme in education. Are there any that you would recommend? I am a UK citizen teaching abroad at present, but I would like to do my master's in the UK.

There are some part-time and distance-learning degrees specifically designed for those teaching overseas and in international schools. Such degrees are offered by UK, US and Australian universities, and it might be worth looking at all these countries.

You need to consider what you want from such a degree and how it might help your career in the future. There will be new models of learning within the next few years as videoconferencing and other technologies take a greater hold of the academic world.

However, in assessing any course, you need to consider how up to date the content is - as much as the method of delivery - and how much interaction you will have with others who are studying at the same time. This may not seem important, but the ability to reflect with others undertaking a similar learning experience can be a valuable part of any study programme. It is also worth checking what sort of tutorial help you will receive for any dissertation or extended essay components of the degree.

If you are teaching in a northern hemisphere country, then you will have no problem with the UK or US academic year, as it will fit in with your own teaching cycle. But if you are teaching in a southern hemisphere country, then an Australian university might offer a course that fits better into the cycle of the school year. As the fees for such courses are not generally regulated, you may want to consider who offers the best value for money as part of your criteria for evaluating them.

Reviving ambition

I am in my seventh year of teaching English in secondary education. When I began teaching, people predicted that I would be a head of department within five years. Since then, I feel my aspirations have vanished and I am not sure what direction my career should take.

If you are feeling demotivated, one place you can turn to for help is the Teacher Support Network (their hotline is 08000 562 561 and their website is They have staff who can talk through issues with you and help you understand why your aspirations may not have materialised.

However, the feelings you are experiencing are not unusual after a period in any job and this is a good time for you to take stock. If you do not want to go down the head of department route, becoming an advanced skills teacher would be the obvious alternative. Alternatively, you might consider a spell as an advisory teacher, then an adviser and perhaps an inspector - or you could choose a new long-term goal such as working in teacher education.

The downside is that these career routes may suffer as more funds are channelled directly to schools and there continues to be a lack of overall direction in professional support for teachers.

If you do not have a higher degree in education, now might be the time to consider studying for one, as I doubt you will make much more career progress without doing so. Being active in a subject association or other professional organisation is also often useful as an alternative to departmental leadership. Becoming a head of teaching or learning, if they have that position at your school, can help, too.

But most of all, you really do need to sit down and think about what would motivate you and what positives you have found during your career. You may be feeling demotivated, but with a potential 30-40 years of your working life left, it is too soon to give up. Hence my suggestion you talk to someone about your feelings and how you might recover a sense of direction.

Professor John Howson is our resident career expert, with 40 years in education, including spells as a teacher, academic, school recruitment researcher and government adviser.

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