The provision of Master’s-level credits in the PGCE is a significant milestone for the teaching profession, but what are the implications for CPD in schools asks Alison Jackson, ESCalate ITE leader at the University of Cumbria
Study at Master’s level may arguably have the potential to enrich the professionalism of teachers, build capacity in the profession and foster critical awareness, not only in the teachers themselves but also in the children and young people they serve. Increasingly schools will be employing newly qualified teachers (NQTs) who have achieved Master’s credits in their PGCE courses, in addition to gaining qualified teacher status (QTS). The implications for CPD are significant. Questions are raised about continuing Master’s study after leaving higher education in order to build on the credits gained and achieve a full Master’s qualification as soon as possible. The Training and Development Agency (TDA) in its advice on effective continuing professional development suggests that, ‘to be effective, CPD should… take account of previous knowledge and expertise.’ If no account is taken of the Master’s study that NQTs have undertaken, it will perhaps be difficult to tailor induction training and further CPD to be relevant to the needs of these beginning teachers. The very uncertainty of what the future holds suggests perhaps the need for CPD providers to review provision in the light of this initiative.
In 2001 the National Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ) made it clear that ‘postgraduate’ courses should be clearly that – courses embarked upon after receiving a first degree and those in which the learning outcomes match parts of the descriptor for a qualification at Master’s level or above. Evidently this posed difficulties for the well recognised PGCE (postgraduate certificate in education) offered by higher education institutions (HEIs) as part of the teacher training provision; if the course did not contain elements of Master’s-level work, it could no longer be called postgraduate and students could no longer receive a postgraduate qualification. Thus HEIs were required to assign a title appropriate to the level of study, creating a PGCE which would be a professional graduate certificate in education for those PGCE qualifications which are pitched at honours level and align with the FHEQ qualification descriptor at H (honours level), and a PGCE which would be postgraduate certificate in education and would contain Master’s credits. These revisions were expected to be in place by September 2007. However, some institutions began offering Master’s credits before this date, some delayed until January 2008, while others have put it off until September 2008 in order to better prepare for the change. Surveys carried out by UCET (Universities Council for the Education of Teachers) in 2006 and ESCalate (the education subject centre of the Higher Education Academy) in 2007 found that 75% of HEIs were going to be offering both versions of PGCE to students, and that percentage continues to grow.
Challenges and opportunities
The initial teacher education (ITE) section of ESCalate, based at the University of Cumbria, has engaged in debate about Master’s-level PGCE provision with teacher educators in England since January 2007. We recognise the amount of commitment needed by HEIs to bring about these changes and consider it imperative to work in partnership with schools and CPD providers to maximise the beneficial effects of this change to the profession.
In a recent ESCalate seminar that concentrated on the student experience, delegates considered the impact on schools of Master’s-level PGCE in initial teacher education. Would this bring about a two-tier teaching profession? Would those who had ‘only’ got QTS be somehow less worthy in the eyes of headteachers when it came to employing NQTs? What about all those teachers already in the profession without any Master’s qualifications – would they feel undermined, resentful, negative? Have we not been preparing ‘good’ teachers with the ability to critically engage with their profession already? What real advantage would Master’s-level provision bring? What would this mean for CPD? The questions are many and answers are not readily available, but that is surely the whole point of the engagement with Master’s level for the teaching profession; it is necessary to ask the questions and seek the answers in all the communities of practice involved with the education of children. The new standards for classroom teachers call for all teachers to ‘have a creative and constructively critical approach towards innovation, being prepared to adapt their practice where benefits and improvements are identified.’ This encouragement to go beyond the competence model is mirrored in the FHEQ descriptor for Master’s level which calls for ‘a critical awareness of current problems and/or new insights, much of which is at, or informed by, the forefront of their academic discipline, field of study, or area of professional practice’. Master’s study has the potential to enrich the teaching profession by fostering the culture of critical reflection. It is a factor in raising esteem internally among members of the profession and in promoting respect for the profession externally in society at large. By extension, critically reflective teaching practitioners will be more likely to foster critically reflective children and young people, aware of their surroundings, their place within them and their value within their community. One teacher educator at the 2007 UCET conference suggested to us that one of the benefits to children of Master’s level would be that they would be ‘learning from a teacher who has been given “stilts” and who can see over and beyond the immediate, the obvious, the accepted, the norm.’ An exciting prospect indeed.
As M-level PGCE provision spreads across the ITE sector in England, this is a key moment in the history of the teaching profession and one that should not go by without some serious research into its impact. The University of Cumbria in collaboration with ESCalate, UCET and a range of HEIs offering Master’s-level PGCE is undertaking research into Master’s-level provision in England.
The research pilot project benefits from some financial support from the Research and Development Fund of the University of Cumbria. It aims to track the progress and effect of Master’s-level PGCE provision in England from September 2007 with the intention of investigating the value-added it brings to the teaching profession. The definition of value-added which we are using is based upon the notion of value-added being an enhancement that students achieve (to knowledge, skills, abilities and other attributes) as a result of their higher education experience. This definition is further extended for the purposes of the research to embrace the perceived value added to the teaching profession of Master’s-level credits. The pilot project is under way and the first thing we have done is to ask the students for their perceptions as they embark on courses. From a sample of 1,257 student teachers, primary and secondary respondents are equally split at approximately 46% each. Just 8% of respondents represent the early years. Some 83% have not studied at Master’s level before, but, even if they are arguably coming from a position of ignorance, there are interesting avenues for exploration in the answers that they have given to a range of introductory questions. Two-thirds think that Master’s qualifications are important to them, 70% expect Master’s qualifications to enhance their teaching, 75% think it will increase their job prospects and 80% look forward to the study of theory making a positive contribution to their teaching. I am not claiming high reliability for these findings to date and it must also be pointed out that 50% were not really sure what Master’s was all about despite their apparent enthusiasm for it. However, all effective research opens debate, provokes questioning and stimulates argument, and this research is already doing that and hopefully laying the path to further in-depth studies next academic year. These same students will be surveyed again at the end of the academic year in order to make comparisons between their perceptions at the beginning of the course and at the end. Qualitative interview data is being collected to enrich the findings. We are also hoping to ask teacher educators, headteachers and teacher mentors in schools about their perceptions of Master’s level in order to discover the broader picture and inform the next stages of the research. Future plans for the research include the possibility of working together with schools and students to construct discussions concerning perceptions of Master’s-level PGCE.
CPD progression in schools
The engagement with Master’s-level provision in the PGCE seems almost to have been founded on a technicality, that of correcting a misnomer which had been used without question for years. It is essential that the fulfilment of that engagement owes little to technicalities and much to the excitement of a positive culture change in the teaching profession.
I noted that effective research creates debate and questioning. This reflects Master’s-level study which will ask student teachers to be ready to engage in theory, their own research and critical debate. These students, when joining the profession as NQTs, will expect to continue this level of debate and critical questioning, they will want to conduct small-scale research with their pupils to be better informed about the effectiveness of their practice, they will want to know more about why things are as they are, they will want to challenge and ask ‘what if we were to try a different way’. This is not an initiative for HEIs with no connection with the ‘real’ world. The partnership between schools and HEIs is crucial; we train teachers together. There is no place here for HEIs blindly following the Master’s route because it seems to be expected – this is a matter for the whole profession. One teacher educator interviewed for the research explained well the joined-up thinking that will be necessary for the Master’s provision to be most effective: ‘The students feel very enthusiastic [about M level] – they want to be teachers but they can see the importance of Master’s and see it as an extra challenge. I’ve been linking it to professionalism and the climate in the teaching profession in terms of continued professional development – it’s the first step up the ladder and a way of them developing more professionally. I feel that in my own Master’s study the opportunity to think and draw the connections has been very valuable. I think it may not be a carrot to the student at this moment in time – it’s very early days – but as their careers progress [it will become clearer]. It will very much depend on the climate in schools and the context that they are working in.’
CPD providers will want to develop that enthusiasm and ensure that the pathways to link with this new breed of beginning teachers are secure.
|PGCE: a two-tier system?
Duncan Hawley, director of secondary PGCE, Swansea School of Education, picks up some of the issues for CPD leaders in schools
So differentiation has reached the PGCE as the qualification begins to develop two tiers; the professional PGCE (equivalent honours degree level) and postgraduate PGCE (containing accredited work at Master’s level). What are the implications of these different PGCEs for new entrants into the profession for the schools that employ them and for professional development? The marketing machines of higher education institutions running PGCE courses will rightly highlight the benefits of both types of qualification – but I want to flag up a few possible issues for schools and CPD and pose some questions to consider. There are no hard and fast answers as yet to the issues highlighted – the differentiated PGCEs are still too fresh to gain any real feel for the possible impacts on the paths of early professional development. Recruitment may be one place where there is impact. Which qualification should schools look for in recruiting new teachers? How much should schools value the M-level PGCE over the professional-level PGCE? Will holding a professional or postgraduate PGCE indicate a likely difference in the teaching approach of an NQT? The QTS Standards will still be the yardstick by which performance in the classroom is measured but the professional/postgraduate PGCE distinction may be helpful to schools in recruiting the type of staff they think may be a valuable addition to the school – ie likely to provide added value to the teaching, especially if a school or department has a development plan that has strong emphasis on curriculum development. An NQT with M level credits should have a stronger professional knowledge base, grasp of the skills and critical insight to inform and develop teaching and pedagogical understanding. I have discussed this issue with a small selection of headteachers and senior managers (in South Wales) and the general response was that they remain open as to the impact of the PGCE as an indicator in appointing new staff. Several thought having M-level credits would not necessarily reflect in the teaching skills and professional values and attitudes they considered important for their selection of an NQT. NQT induction and early professional development (EPD) is another aspect to consider. How should schools manage the NQT induction year? Should there be different approaches for those with M-level PGCE and those who have completed professional level PGCEs? In conversation earlier this year with one of my former PGCE students (who produced M-level work and is now in her second year of teaching), she remarked that a series of CPD sessions on ‘thinking skills’ (organised by the LEA) ‘accepted too much at face value’, with ‘too much emphasis on “how to” rather than “how does”’. She didn’t feel the sessions moved her beyond what she had gained from the PGCE and wanted a ‘deeper look at the learning process’. Perhaps on a more mundane level, there is no standard number of M credits offered by PGCE courses – this can vary between 40 and 120 credits. How will a 40-credit NQT compare against an NQT with 120 credits? How can a school offer appropriate professional development to both – perhaps through highly differentiated CPD?
It seems likely that to accommodate the shift in PGCEs to a two-tier system (or should that be multiple-tier system given the credit variation mentioned above?) that planning of EPD routes for beginning teachers needs to follow the trend now expected in teaching pupils; in becoming much more flexible and personalised.