05 March 2009

On mandatory Master's

Ed Balls (Secretary of State for Curtains and Soft Furnishings --sorry! Children, Schools and Families) has declared that social work (specifically children's services) should require a Master's degree, joining teaching as an aspirational occupation. Generally speaking I can't argue with that, having been continually frustrated in the 80s and 90s at the failure of government to grasp the nettle of making it a graduate occupation.

But, I am witnessing close-up what is happening with the Master's initiative in teaching, and standards are clearly being dumbed-down. The actual study requirements are being eroded by over generous accreditation of prior learning; the assessment load for modules and the contact hours (either face to face or on-line) are being trimmed... All in the interests of getting people to take the courses. One university with which I have some acquaintance is claiming that its numbers on Master's programmes will have increased twenty-fold (yes, not by twenty percent, but twenty-fold) in two years. The courses now cost teachers nothing, and ingenious arrangements confer credit at Master's level for the Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) year, together with some components of the PGCE assessed at Master's level...

It's the educational philosophy of the Wizard of Oz;
Wizard of Oz: They have one thing you haven't got: a diploma. Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universitartus Committiartum E Pluribus Unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary degree of ThD.
Scarecrow: ThD?
Wizard of Oz: That's... Doctor of Thinkology.

This has got nothing to do with learning, and still less with demonstrably improved practice, or indeed with ability to work at higher academic levels... And attempts to align the latter two elements are flakey in any case.

But at least teaching has pretensions to academic underpinnings (if they are relevant and if the award of a diploma/Master's testifies to anything relevant). For twenty-five years I taught social workers at all levels from home helps (as they were then known) to senior managers, from day-release in-service introductory courses with no academic credit through qualifying programmes to post-qualifying courses for practice teachers and "approved" mental health social workers.

The correlation between effectiveness in practice and academic performance was--beyond a certain threshold--zero. Social workers require a vast range of skills and qualities, some technical and more personal. Their tacit knowledge and judgement, their empathy and their scepticism, their tenacity and perseverance and resilience... all these have to be demonstrated at high levels day in day out.

But there is little or no overlap with the demonstration of academic skills required by traditional Master's programmes, Raise the status of social work by all means (more pay and more respectful management, and of course more manageable workloads would be a start...) but to go down the Master's route risks disenfranchising some great practitioners, and/or devaluing Master's awards, and/or just missing the point.

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous9:19 am

    Surely the priority for teachers should be about their subject knowledge which is often fairy broad and low level rather than teaching – assuming they have the necessary PGCE/QTS licence to practice type award? I’d like to see teachers with Master level awards in maths, geography and physics rather than chalk boards.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Chris9:21 am

    Surely the priority for teachers should be about their subject knowledge which is often fairy broad and low level rather than teaching – assuming they have the necessary PGCE/QTS licence to practice type award? I’d like to see teachers with Master level awards in maths, geography and physics rather than chalk boards.

    ReplyDelete

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