Master the art of pedagogy

4th July 2008 at 01:00
Andy Buck, Headteacher at the Eastbrook-Jo Richardson partnership in Barking and Dagenham, north-east London

Andy Buck, Headteacher at the Eastbrook-Jo Richardson partnership in Barking and Dagenham, north-east London

As the implications for the Children's Plan start to filter through, one that will have a big impact is the development of the masters in teaching and learning. A consultation is under way and the aim is for the programme to begin in September next year.

The potential benefits are huge. Everyone understands the link between better teaching, better learning and improved life chances for young people. If the masters helps teachers become better at their job, the benefits are obvious. By raising the status of the profession, it also has the potential to make teaching more attractive to potential recruits. It will also aid retention, particularly in the first few years.

It's good to see an acknowledgement that the professional development that makes the biggest difference to pupil learning is based on a sustained programme with in-school coaching. "Being the Best for our Children", which sets out the Government's agenda, also gives a clear commitment to fund the masters - not just in universities, but also in schools, so that time can be made available for teachers' participation and for coaching. It's also good to see that the temptation to link the award of the degree to pay has been resisted.

Although the development of the masters has begun and the way ahead is becoming clearer, the process will be challenging and require a strong commitment to collaboration from all the stakeholders. For example, the system whereby PGCE trainees can gain up to half an MA during their course has led to many feeling overburdened. One of our newly qualified teachers for September has described how, after a full day at school on placement, she spent four hours on Wednesday evening sback at university for her MA.

We need to make sure the new masters is manageable and attractive or we risk turning potential teachers away. Shouldn't we take the opportunity to reduce the PGCE content, leaving more time for them to focus on getting the basics - behaviour management and a good grasp of pedagogy - right?

It is also be tempting to provide a one-size-fits-all masters with a tightly defined curriculum, especially if one wants to set up a system where learning is transferable if people move during the programme. But such an approach is likely to limit the potential for personalising the learning to the school and the individual teacher. It would make more sense to develop core elements for all participants and different options that could be developed to meet the individual needs of teachers in the context of their pupils and schools.

Assessment of teachers' progress presents a unique set of challenges. It needs to be manageable, rigorous and maintain masters level. As the goal is to improve outcomes for young people, it needs to focus on how teachers' learning impacts on pupil outcomes. But it must avoid trying to define what masters-level teaching might look like.

The masters in teaching and learning has the potential to make a real difference, but it's going to be a challenge to get it right. The Government is sensible to start small and evaluate what works and what doesn't before investing huge sums of public money.

But we need to remember who the masters is for. Yes, it's a new professional qualification for teachers, but its core purpose is to support teachers to meet the needs of pupils. That way we really can be the best for our children.

`Making School Work: A Practical Approach to Secondary School Leadership' by Andy Buck is published by Greenwich Exchange.

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