Masters course blocked by heads, claim tutors
Heads are barring their staff from studying for a new flagship government qualification because they fear it will be a distraction, those running the courses have said.
The introduction of the masters in teaching and learning (MTL) - which is designed to make teaching a masters-level profession - is threatened by a lack of support from school leaders, university tutors warned.
But universities are now masterminding a "hearts and minds" campaign to convince heads to back the scheme. The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), which has overall control of the course, is also running a campaign to raise awareness of the MTL.
The course, only open to staff in National Challenge schools at first, has already been hit by delays and uncertainties over funding. It begins in the North West this summer.
Headteachers are "negative" about becoming involved and will not allow their students to join up, according to Professor Robert Smedley, dean of education at Edge Hill University.
"There are misconceptions and I'm trying to spend time on the road speaking to school leaders so I can explain the concept face-to-face. But some are not listening and I find that very sad because this is an important initiative for the teaching profession," he said.
"As universities, we have a responsibility to promote something as positive as the MTL."
Roger Woods, dean of education at Birmingham City University, said headteachers there had also not yet understood the concept of the MTL. "They've already got so much on their plate and are under so much pressure," he said.
"NQTs who have jobs are being told they cannot go on the course. The solution is a 'hearts and minds' job, but that takes time. The course will take some time to settle in.
"People are inevitably going to be wary of something so big, but this is frustrating for us and we could do with a bit more understanding from schools. It won't divert attendees from their work."
Teaching union the NUT has always said the masters in teaching and learning should not be offered only to newly qualified teachers. John Bangs, the union's head of education, said: "Headteachers have never been convinced the qualification is essential to the core existence of their teachers, or that it will be able to be integrated into the school day."
School leaders who are supporting the MTL say the benefits will be "impressive and far reaching".
Neil Dixon, head of St Mary's and St Paul's Primary School in Merseyside, said: "Our NQTs will be able to develop their skills in a classroom context which will have a direct impact on our pupils.
"The qualification offer will also help our school recruit and retain excellent teachers by ensuring they have the training and experience necessary to progress and make improvements on the ground."
The MTL will cost #163;30 million in the North West alone. Those in the first five years of their careers will be targeted first by the TDA, but it will eventually be open to all teachers.
A TDA spokeswoman said: "It is worth noting that MTL is a totally new product, and for many schools a new way of working. Key ambassadors are now on board, such as Bill Laar, patron of National Primary Schools Association."
Spreading the word
About 40 per cent of all eligible newly qualified teachers (NQTs) in the North West have so far applied. Admissions there end in April. In other areas, applications are expected to be modest, mainly because of the small number of National Challenge schools.
Chris Robertson, head of the Institute of Education at the University of Worcestershire, said: "We've been asked to recruit as many NQTs to the course as possible, but I think aiming for a high percentage is unrealistic. It's more important we run a brilliant course. Then word will spread and numbers will start to build up."