Ignore masters qualification at your peril

14th March 2008 at 00:00
No penalty for teachers, but Government expects employers to take it into account when hiring

Teachers will not be penalised if they fail to study for a new masters qualification, but it might damage their future job prospects, a government document suggests.

Ed Balls, Children, Schools and Families Secretary, said last week he hoped all new teachers would complete a masters in teaching and learning (MTL) during the first three to five years of their careers.

The Government claims that the classroom-based qualification will improve teacher quality, raise the status of the profession and make it a more attractive career option.

But heads believe the degree is better suited to more experienced staff and fear it will add to the burden on newly qualified teachers.

A document outlining the plans insists that there will be "no direct link" between the masters and pay and career progression decisions. But it adds: "We envisage that, as more teachers gain MTL, we would expect this to be a factor when employers are recruiting."

The Government says the masters would be fully funded for teachers in the first five years of the job, but cash for more experienced staff might have to come from their school or out of their own pockets.

Asked if teachers would be expected to give up their spare time to work towards the qualification, Mr Balls told The TES: "If we are going to raise standards to a masters level, that means both government and individual teachers will have to make a contribution in terms of effort.

"Clearly it's going to require a commitment from teachers." But he added that he expected take-up to be high. "It won't be a question of people not wanting to do it, but a question of whether we can meet the demand," he said.

Philip Parkin, general secretary of Voice, formerly the Professional Association of Teachers, said the first years of teaching were "a period of high workload and greatest danger of dropout".

"Having to also complete a masters would only exacerbate this situation unless it formed part of the induction process," he said.

Debbie Coslett, headteacher of The Hayesbrook School in Tonbridge, Kent, said she welcomed the idea of the masters, but also feared it could backfire.

"The bar may be set too high," she said. "I would suggest it would be better for teachers to do it after their first five years of teaching."

Between 3 and 5 per cent of teachers are already studying for a masters degree. Many schools are working closely with universities to offer them.

The masters scheme, first revealed in the Children's Plan last year, comes as the vast majority of PGCE courses now offer masters-level modules.

James Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said the plans for masters degrees were an important change to teachers' continuing professional development. But he warned that the Government had to be "very careful that the course is not too inflexible and does not undermine the wide range of existing masters degrees".

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