When, where and how many: questions that dog masters course

1st May 2009 at 01:00
First the MTL is postponed. Now the number of students won't be decided until the teaching starts

Fundamental questions about the future of the troubled new masters in teaching and learning won't be resolved until after its introduction, those responsible for the course have admitted.

Ed Balls has already postponed the course, which is designed to make teaching a masters-level profession, after universities and unions said preparations were being severely hampered by the Government's delay in agreeing funding.

But it has now emerged that no decisions will be taken on the numbers of students on the course - at first only open to newly qualified teachers - or whether other masters courses will continue, until the MTL is up and running.

There are also growing fears that the extra workload involved will lead to even more young teachers leaving the profession.

The Schools Secretary's decision to start registration for the course in January and teaching next summer has been welcomed by academics, but the teaching unions say their concerns have not been addressed.

A major publicity campaign is also planned to make sure schools and NQTs know about the course after universities reported a lack of enthusiasm among headteachers.

"We are adamant that it is a huge mistake to offer the course only to newly qualified teachers," said Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers. "One of the key aspects for them is their relationship with children and parents. If they spend even more time out of the classroom they will lose credibility."

The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) says there is funding available. Around Pounds 30 million had been set aside, but it is unclear if this will change following the Budget. Mentors have to be trained, but contracts have not yet been awarded.

John Carr, director of the MTL programme at the agency, denied the postponement was an "emergency" measure. He said the decision was made by ministers and his agency felt the tight timescale for the introduction was "doable".

He believes the first version of the course will not be the "finished article". It will be open to those in National Challenge schools nationwide, but to all NQTs in the North West. If it is successful, he says, this should form the basis for what happens to the course in the future.

"The course will have a positive impact on the community. There was a general feeling that everyone was committed to it starting in September, although we realised it would be tight and we would have to do things differently - the secretary of state's decision was a response to that," Mr Carr said.

The TDA is committed to funding masters courses where students are in the middle of their work, but Mr Carr said no decision had yet been taken about this happening for the long term until the performance of the MTL is known.

John Bangs, head of education for the NUT, said there was still a "general uneasiness" about the MTL among teacher unions because of the level of work still needed to be done. The NUT believes the course should be offered to more experienced staff.

COUNTDOWN TO MTL

March 2008: Ed Balls announces plans for the masters degree to emulate countries such as Finland.

Summer 2008: Consultations begin.

July 2008: The union Voice announces it's opposed to the degree, saying it's politically motivated.

March 2009: Universities and unions express concern about timescale, saying course is being set up too quickly.

April 2009: Ed Balls postpones the degree. Deadline for universities to submit bids to run the course.

June 2009: Contracts awarded for universities that will run the course.

January 2010: Registration opens for students.

Summer 2010: Students start their studies.

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