Not all of us want to be masters of the universe

13th March 2009 at 00:00

I wouldn't usually share the contents of my mid-year performance review with the public. This, however, was no ordinary interview.

"Is there blood seeping from the top of my head?" I asked my interviewer after we'd spent a few minutes analysing my classes' exam results.

"Yes, quite a lot. Do you want a tissue?" he replied, helpfully.

This was not a case of grade-rage. He hadn't just walloped me across the head in horror at my pupils' results. My head had actually begun bleeding much earlier in the day.

The real cause was that I had casually walked into a door frame that morning. In going to bid farewell to my son (an essentially pointless gesture as he had been asleep), I had somehow managed to miss the entrance to his bedroom completely.

It was an ominous start to a day that was to be all about my professional direction. I couldn't help seeing the collision with the door frame as an inescapable metaphor: do I - in any sense - really know where I'm going?

When I consider my career uncertainties, I'm a little envious of my NQT colleagues. Under the new "We shall all be masters" plan, they are obliged to take a masters degree. I, in contrast, am left pondering whether I really want to join them.

We should always be striving to become better teachers. The trouble is that as soon as I find our professional development being converted into "accreditation points" and exotic-sounding degrees, my heart just sinks.

Why do we need this huge, expensive, controlling mechanism? Driving everyone on to a formal degree course suddenly turns the whole self-improvement idea into just a regular additional commitment.

And were I to seek masters status, many other enriching parts of my life would have to give way. I am, among other things - not necessarily in order of importance - an industrious striker in staff football matches, a golfer, a useful chess player, a father, a husband, a runner, a cyclist, a seam bowler, a reader and theatre-goer. And I'm quite fond of the local pub too.

These are all enriching activities that probably make me a better teacher. They may not gain me certificates, but they make me feel fulfilled, and many of them would have to go if I began a costly and time-consuming masters.

Surely we can progress just as well if we simply attend well-run courses, read the right educational journals, participate in good training days, and share good practice with colleagues?

After all, what formal qualification has Ed Balls undertaken in the past year to develop his skills as Schools Secretary? I expect he feels he has developed professionally simply by reading, listening and discussing issues with experts and colleagues.

To be honest, the only masters that inspires me is the one that takes place on the fairways of Augusta each year.

I suspect that the real motive for turning teaching into a masters-level profession is simply to enhance our prestige in the world. And what will be different in the classroom when all teachers are nominal masters of the universe? Possibly nothing, except a sense that we have moved from grade inflation to the next logical step: graduate inflation.

Stephen Petty, Head of humanities, Lord Williams's School, Thame, Oxfordshire.

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