For Alison Kitson, embarking on a MA meant taking a solitary path, but things have changed since then. She explains the new attitude to one of the most highly regarded forms of CPD

About a hundred years ago, in my third year of teaching, I embarked on an MA in Education. Looking back, a number of reasons motivated me. Primarily, I felt that, in the process of passing on my knowledge to others, my brain was in need of a top-up. But I also felt, in a vague kind of way, that some further engagement in formal study would make me a better teacher and help me along a bit in my career.

A motivation which was singularly absent was any kind of encouragement from my school. These were the days before proper systems of appraisal, when CPD was regarded as neither a duty nor an entitlement and was an almost entirely ad hoc affair. I doubt I would even have described my MA as a form of CPD. Certainly no one was much interested in it, nor was I accountable for any impact it had on my practice.

Things are different now. Performance management, especially in its revised format, guarantees teachers a proper professional dialogue in which their performance is reviewed, their strengths acknowledged and their future needs and aspirations explored. Identifying and agreeing what kinds of CPD will be of most benefit is now a key feature of that dialogue.

The array of different kinds of CPD opportunities is considerable. At the core are those opportunities provided within the school, such as mentoring and coaching. Beyond these are networks based around subjects, phases and other schools. Finally, there are other external sources of CPD provided by your local authority, your subject association, universities, private providers and so on.

Recent research suggests that the contribution which the ‘specialist’ or ‘expert’ makes to teachers’ CPD, such as you might find through postgraduate study, is valuable and distinctive. Studying for an M-level qualification remains one of the most highly regarded forms of CPD. M-level qualifications do not only include a full MA. They also include postgraduate certificates, which typically take about a year to complete part-time, or postgraduate diplomas, which typically take between one and two years to complete part-time. This means that teachers can study at their own pace and can decide whether to pursue their study to a full MA or whether to ‘exit’ at an earlier point and gain a postgraduate certificate or diploma (which could be ‘topped up’ to a full Master’s degree later if desired), making postgraduate study very flexible.

While most funding for CPD is now devolved directly to schools, a central source of funding continues to subsidise places on postgraduate courses for up to 35,000 teachers each year. This funding stream is known as PPD (postgraduate professional development) and is administered by the TDA (Training and Development Agency for Schools). It applies to all M-level courses, from postgraduate certificates and diplomas to full MAs and doctorates. Subsidies are given to provider partnerships, who are then able to set fees at an accessible rate for teachers. These partnerships are of different sizes and types, but typically include universities, local authorities, individual schools and subject associations. The courses they offer range from those which focus on specific areas such as subject expertise and SEN, to those with a wide range of optional modules from which teachers can select according to their various areas of interest, often including ‘content free’ modules where the teacher (or indeed, the school) can agree a topic with the provider which suits his or her particular interest or need. (See article by Sean Cavan entitled ‘A Flexible Approach to Postgraduate Study‘.)

So why might a teacher embark on postgraduate study and why might a school encourage it?

Reason 1: Because PPD makes you a better teacher

  • The previous incarnation of PPD – known as ‘award-bearing Inset’ – received positive evaluations from Ofsted, from teachers and from other external sources. Most importantly, it was agreed that PPD had a positive impact on teacher performance and ultimately, on pupil outcomes.
  • Studying at postgraduate level has particular kinds of impact on teachers. It can help them to develop the confidence and ability to subject their professional practice to critical reflection. It is emphatically not a way simply to understand current, accepted practice and policy better, but is rather a way of questioning and challenging such practice by bringing critical thinking and action research to bear upon it.
  • The application process by which PPD providers are approved by TDA requires that the postgraduate programmes have a demonstrable impact on both teacher and pupil performance. Providers must develop ways to evaluate this impact and to report findings to the TDA each year. This process helps to ensure that it is no longer a happy coincidence – as it was in my case – that theory and practice go hand in glove in postgraduate study.

Reason 2: Because PPD is the gold standard of CPD

  • We know quite a bit about what makes CPD effective. We know, for example, that when CPD activities feel remote from the classroom and are not rooted in the daily realities of teachers, they are unlikely to impact heavily on practice. We know that one-off, isolated CPD events may not help teachers to embed improved practice back in the classroom. We know that learning in collaboration with other colleagues is helpful and also that CPD that can be personalised to meet the needs of the particular teacher is highly valued.
  • Many of the features of effective CPD are present in M-level, postgraduate study by its very nature. It provides sustained opportunities to reflect, often with others; it is highly personalised and it invites teachers to apply their learning to their own practice.

Reason 3: Because PPD helps you to develop your career

  • To a large extent, reasons one and three are linked. Any development of practice will help further a teacher’s career, whether that be to develop expertise within the classroom, to contribute to the development of a subject, to contribute to the development of colleagues, to move into leadership positions or to do any number of other things.
  • Not only will an M-level qualification help develop practice, it also has a currency valued by others, including future employers. It demonstrates engagement in CPD at an advanced level. It indicates a seriousness and commitment to develop professionally and an ability to reflect in a structured and informed manner.
  • Increasingly, there are a number of ways in which CPD can be accredited – but they do not have to be mutually exclusive. Other articles in this edition cover the accreditation of teachers’ school-based learning and the ASE’s new Chartered Science Teacher status. In the case of the latter, M-level study or equivalent in education is part of the eligibility criteria. Similarly, there are ways to integrate M-level study into the Teacher Learning Academy framework and many PPD providers are currently exploring these links. It is also possible for professional qualifications awarded by the National College for School Leadership, such as NPQH and Leading from the Middle, to achieve recognition at M-level.

If you are interested in finding out more, please visit www.tda.gov.uk/cpd. There are some fantastic examples of schools encouraging teachers to embark on postgraduate study. In some cases, PPD-funded courses are provided on school sites because of the number of teachers engaged in study. In other cases, individual teachers are offered some financial support. But a key enabler is a school’s encouragement and the way in which it values this kind of high quality, high level CPD.

I was very proud of my MA in education but I’m not as sure that my school was. What would your school think?

Alison Kitson is programme leader for CPD at the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA)

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