A few people have asked me about the Open University’s Masters in Education programme and now I’ve completed everything I shall impart my wisdom upon the internet and hopefully persuade other people it’s a good idea.
The OU hold several graduation ceremonies across the year and graduates can choose any one, so a couple of weeks ago I ditched the UK for the Palace of Versailles in Paris. I’m not an extravagant person, I promise, so quite how I convinced myself that opting for Paris was a good idea, I don’t know. Actually, I blame Pam Jarvis, my third course tutor, for putting the idea in my head. She was tempted to opt for it as her next OU venue – I wonder if she did?
As it turned out, it was a brilliant way to round off my whole OU experience. I actually finished my MEd last year so I’ve had a whole school year’s worth of holidays without having to write assignments which has been lovely, but I’ve enjoyed the reminder that Reasearch Ed and graduation have given me that I loved it and hopefully I’ll keep it up.
I’ve worked in the same school as a teaching assistant for almost exactly ten years now. It wasn’t a plan that I’d be doing it for this long but in that time I’ve worked across the school, in class with KS3 and KS2, delivered on-to-one literacy full time and closely supported GCSE English and Art. The school has grown from twenty secondary pupils to forty-five 7-16 pupils, staff numbers have more than tripled, we’ve federated with another special school and there are plans for us to expand even more. So whilst I’ve had the same job on paper, I’ve had a huge number of roles and work in what can seem an entirely different school to the one I started off in. As I say though, I never planned to be doing this and I’ve still not worked out what I want to do.
A few years ago I decided that if I wasn’t physically going anywhere I’d have a look at other options – it’s hard to do anything in education without a PGCE but I really don’t want to go down that route, and I stumbled across the OU Masters programme. It seemed quite a lot of money and a lot of time to invest, plus I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to do it. I graduated in 2002 with my Psychology BA and hadn’t really done anything academic since. Even though it wouldn’t lead to a new job or a pay rise, I decided to give it a go.
Open University Masters in Education
The OU programme is modular and uses a points system. You can take up to seven years to complete the qualification. Most courses are worth 60 points and you need 180 points for the MA Ed/MEd (same courses, you choose your title). One of the things that helped me decide whether to go for it is that each 60 points is its own qualification so if I decided not to keep going I wouldn’t have wasted my time or money.
- 60 points = graduate certificate in education
- 120 points = graduate diploma in education
- 180 points = masters in education
Throughout my studies, the cost of each course was around £1100 but it went up each year and I’m not sure what they’re on now. I was lucky enough to have some money towards my courses from school but for qualified teachers there is a scheme to help with funding too. They estimate that you should spend around twelve hours a week studying but this varies. The course materials are well structured and some give time breakdowns for activities.
Most courses are assessed by a series of tutor marked assessments (TMAs) and a final, longer, end of module assessment (EMA) which is double marked by other tutors. There is one compulsory course, ‘Educational Enquiry’ which is a 60 point course and is a sound introduction to research methods in education and foundation to the rest of the programme. Courses change slightly each year and are listed with their end dates to help make choosing a bit easier.
There are a lot of courses available and it can be difficult to select the ones to do. The OU seems to be moving towards more and more online delivery. Resources are both posted and online, with online academic journal access. There are forums for qualification, course and tutor group which are very useful and an online tutorial facility ‘Elluminate’ for long distance tutorials. One of my reasons for choosing the courses I did was that they offered face-to-face tutorials. Even though I had to travel to Leicester, Birmingham, Canterbury, London and only a had a couple in Nottingham, I value these ridiculously highly and think it would be terrible if the OU got rid of them completely.
So. My courses.
E891 – Educational Enquiry
This is the compulsory course for the masters. I think it’s designed to be studied first as it has some really step-by-step elements (which you can skip if you’re confident) for people new or returning to academic study. There is a focus on where educational research sits in relation to other academic spheres and different methodologies/ methodological techniques. Running throughout the whole masters programme is an emphasis on critical appraisal and E891 guides students through this. There is the opportunity to study in relation to your own setting and conducting literature reviews is central to the course.
I found that there was a range of people with different backgrounds on all my courses. There were teachers from all areas of education, TAs, early years practitioners, prison services, and at all stages of their careers. Some had read academic papers before, others didn’t know what an abstract was. Everyone had a different perception of this course and I think experience and whether they had already studied other courses influenced this. I enjoyed it and found it exercised my brain without being too daunting, but for others it was a dry course that they just had to get through. I don’t know quite what the course is like now because they were changing it as I was finishing and I think they have moved it to online only.
E804 – Managing behaviour in schools
I managed to get this one in before it was retired. It was written in 2004 so had been running for a while and the coalition government had just been formed. Everything in education policy was changing and as a lot of the course was looking at policy there were many aspects that were on the verge of being outdated. I believe that they are re-writing it and will bring it back at some point. I was required to evaluate my own abilities and conduct a whole-school needs analysis.
This was my favourite course. I loved the content, I loved the tutorials, I loved doing my own research. This was a course that I felt everyone working in education should do and when I had finished it I felt like I had shifted my perception of so many things that it had left me on a completely different track to the people I work with. That sounds a bit nobby but it’s true, We discussed it in our tutorials, how we were finding things out but it was difficult to pass any of it on because you sound like the ponce doing a masters. Quite suitably I recently found reference to a paper that talks about this very subject. It’s in a collection of papers (Part 1 (3) W.C. Clay). I’ve bought it second hand to give it a proper read!
E804 was co-written with The University of Waikato in New Zealand. New Zealand has similar behavioural issues with Maori children as we have with black boys and there was a lot of information about these groups across the course. I found the cultural references, not only with New Zealand but around the globe, very interesting. There was a particular focus on the Clover Park Middle School, now Kia Aroha College, and their cultural approach to schooling. The passion for their school that these pupils held was stunning and the whole story of the school inspiring.
There was the opportunity to conduct two pieces of practitioner research in this course. I looked at background music in lessons and our whole-school rewards scheme. I found this challenging and I don’t know whether there was any lasting impact of my research but I found it an essential part of the course. One of the difficulties of E804 was the topic of policy and the TMA dedicated to this. We found that policy was constantly changing and had to decide on a point to stop and leave our assignments as they were. As the government shifted, entire websites disappeared and the online forums were awash with people posting links to archived material just so we could complete our references!
Useful reading that springs to mind:
Ysseldyke and Christenson’s (1987) framework to assess characteristics of the classroom learning environments in which students are placed.
ED841 – Understanding children’s development and learning
My final course was much more psychology based. This course is also an option for some of the other OU masters programmes and I think it had a slightly different feel to it. There was a focus on different methodologies and approaches to child development looking at the influence of Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner etc and different learning strategies associated with their work.
As a significant part of my day job involves literacy I thought these aspects of the course would be interesting and I hadn’t chosen the OU module specifically related to literacy. When it came to it, this part of the course seemed out of sync with the rest of the course material and I opted to leave it out.
I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of this course, it was a bit more scientific and although the thought of remembering my undergraduate statistics brought a mild sense of terror, I had enough knowledge to understand the papers I was reading but wasn’t really required to put any of it into practice. As with E804 there was a research element but this was small-scale and the final EMA was a research proposal akin to a PhD proposal.
This was the only course where I had to buy most of my books in addition to the course materials. Most of them were al right but Garton (2004) was a very difficult book to understand and I don’t think I used it to its full potential. I also have to say that this was a bit of a slog towards the end and I didn’t put my heart into it. I knew the end was in sight and after three summer holidays filled with critical analysis I was ready to stop. When I think back on this course I remember it being difficult but actually I think I just needed a break!
Useful reading that springs to mind:
Child Psychology – Schaffer (2004). He made sense of things when other people didn’t.
Vandermaas-Peerler, M., Way, E., and Umpleby, J., (2003) – Scaffolding.
Wood, D., Bruner, J.S., and Ross, G.(1976) – Scaffolding.
Sun, J. and Rao, N. (2012) – Scaffolding in other cultures.
Was it worth it?
Of course it was worth it and I would recommend it to anyone working in education. I met some lovely people with brilliant ideas and perspectives. It’s made me more confident to express my opinion and challenge those of others. When Nottingham City were consulting on the 5 term year proposals my initial thoughts were that they handled it appallingly but I needed to find out what the background was. I found some research, emailed the researcher and received a reading list which I followed up. I still think the council were wrong but I’d had the confidence and skills to find out for myself.
What would you get out of it?
The Open University Masters in Education teaches you to read academic journals critiaclly, questioning the methods and findings of research. It develops your ability to pick out key information and be aware of bias and ethics. You’ll question research and ask questions when you don’t understand. One of the most important things I learnt was that if I don’t understand something, I probably will if it’s explained and if it already has been then maybe it wasn’t a good explanation and maybe other people don’t understand either.
I’ve learnt that most people use reflective practice all the time, it’s what you do with the knowledge that makes a difference. I’d love it if more people took an interest in education research and not just to grasp on to an idea or wildly trust what someone else says. I want people to investigate before dismissing and have the confidence to try things out.
My graduation ceremony was extravagant and fun. Everybody walking up on that stage, no matter the qualification, had made a concious decision to study and further their minds. I think that when I did my BA it was just ‘what you do after A-levels’. I worked hard and loved it but there was something about watching all those people who have opted to study alongside jobs and families, mortgages and children, that made it all feel a bit more special.
I’m not sure how I will use my MEd now. I’ve had an interesting conversation with out Executive Headteacher and there may be something around the corner which is exciting because the past few weeks have shown me that I love all this academic stuff and I’d love to do more of it. I just have to work out what and how!
Garton, A.F., (2004) Exploring Cognitive Development: The Child As Problem Solver, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.
Schaffer, H.R. (2004) Child Psychology Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.
Sun, J. and Rao, N. (2012) ‘Scaffolding Interactions With Preschool Children: Comparisons Between Chinese Mothersand Teachers Across Different Tasks’, Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 58 (1), pp 110-140
Vandermaas-Peerler, M., Way, E., and Umpleby, J., (2003) ‘Parental guidance in a cooking activity with preschoolers’, Applied Developmental Psychology, 24, pp 75–89
Wood, D., Bruner, J.S., and Ross, G.(1976) ‘The role of tutoring in problem solving.’ Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17, pp 89-100
Ysseldyke, J. E. and Christenson, S. L. (1987) ‘Evaluating students’ instructional environments’, Remedial and Special Education, 8(3), pp. 17–24.
Well I wasn’t quite sure how the direction of this re-started blog would go and it turns out that it’s going to be eclectic.
Next weekend we are popping over to Paris for my Open University MEd graduation. It’ll be a small, intimate* affair at Versailles *might not be. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I chose that venue but it will be the culmination of three years spent squeezing reading and research, tutorials and assignments, into everyday life and holidays. Whilst it doesn’t lead me to any particular job and there’s no pay rise, it was worth every minute.
It seems almost perfect that this final part of my MEd journey comes the weekend after the first ResearchEd conference, bring together teaching professionals, educators and researchers to open up the debate of research in education.
It all came about when Ben Goldacre spoke about research and education and it created a spark on twitter. Within a day Tom Bennett found himself ploughing forth with a conference and a huge amount of support from all corners of education. It turns out that people are interested in bringing high quality, reliable research to the forefront of education and maybe what happened yesterday is the catalyst for bringing everything together.
I have to say, not everyone at the event was in education. I dragged Howard along as I had a spare ticket – he works for the NHS as a data and systems manager for sexual health services. This isn’t exactly the coal face of education but he seemed interested by most of the day.
There was a lot crammed into the programme. Following Ben Goldacre’s keynote speech (with classic use of the non-connecting laptop/projector combo so many of us are familiar with), there were six sessions with up to six parallel speakers. It was difficult to choose what to go with but most of the sessions were filmed and hopefully I’ll be able to see some of the ones I missed. So here’s what I went to:
- Ben Goldacre – ‘The need for a better infrastructure to support evidence-based practice in teaching, and how to get there.’
- Dr Frank Furedi – ‘Scientism in the classroom: opinion masquerading as research.’
- Kay Yeoman – ‘School/University Partnerships Programme at the University of East Anglia.’
- Stephen Lockyer – ‘Copyrights & Wrongs: The rapid decline of provenance in Education, and why giving credit matters more than ever.’
- Daisy Cristodoulou – ‘Statistical significance &theoretical frameworks: how can we discover the root causes of successful teaching & learning?’
- Becky Francis – ‘Addressing gender gaps in attainment: what doesn’t work, and what might.’
I enjoyed everything I went to and managed to choose a good spread of topics, with contrasting opinions on the value of different research methods within education. There were some points in the day where I felt like I was at a rushed INSET event, but I think that may have been mostly down to the 5:30am start and no allocated lunchtime!
I suspect that on a professional level, the most immediately valuable session for me was the focus of gender gaps with Becky Francis. Working with boys who are (mostly) working at low levels, there was a lot that I’ll follow up from her presentation. On a more personal and long term level, I really enjoyed the session with Kay Yeoman and I am eager to get involved in some sort of School/University Partnership. There seem to be so many Trusts and Networks that work in this area that there’s surely something I can get involved with.
I only had a couple of disappointments from the day. The first was networking. With such a packed programme and short gaps between sessions/no lunch break, there wasn’t as much time to talk to people as I would have liked. Following the day up on twitter and through blogs will ease this but maybe next year it needs to be more spread out. My other disappointments are more selfish. In the whole day I didn’t hear anyone mention teaching assistants or special schools/SEN pupils. Obviously I wasn’t at every presentation or workshop, but even Howard got a mention of sexual health from Ben Goldacre so I felt a bit left out! I really believe there’s more space for integration with TAs and research, and as a special school we often have the opportunity to be more flexible in our approach to different pupil needs and I think this could be an ideal environment for pilot schemes.
My Reflections On It All
In some respects a conference like ResearchEd is preaching to the converted. Everyone there was likely to already be involved in practitioner research or interested in how it might fit in for them. I actually think you’ve got to be quite brave to get involved with research in schools. You face coming across like a bit of a nobber if you start arguing a point with references to academia, and it can be difficult to oppose the opinions of those higher up when you know you’re right but they’re in charge. For those who haven’t been ‘converted’ educational research is thought to be carried out by people locked away on a university campus and a waste of time.
We’re quickly getting to the point where most people working in schools, including a lot of TAs, have a degree and most of the pupils in schools, including those with special educational needs, are in the mind set that they will go to university and get a degree. It would surprise me if this wasn’t connected to the increased appetite for research in education – we have a host of people who have studied research methods and conducted research of their own and events like the one yesterday are perfectly timed to feed this appetite.
So how do we keep the momentum?
There are calls on twitter for journal clubs, virtual and live, lots of people are blogging about it and lots of people will go back on Monday to disseminate their experience. The focus of the session lead by Stephen Lockyer was about maintaining a level of provenance in our work. Throughout my MEd we were taught to conduct critical analysis – not take anything at face value and read around a subject to draw our own conclusions. There isn’t time to do this for everything of course, but a difference between universities and schools is access to journals. Our school subscribes to three journals and until last Christmas I had access to the online journals though the OU. Without this resource, how can we expect people to at least have a look at how research is conducted and what is out there? How can people be expected to take an interest if they can’t make an informed decision?
Another difference between schools and universities is the loom of Ofsted. It’s lovely to think you can try things out and find out ‘what works’ but it takes a brave teacher (or teaching assistant) to go against the routines in school and try out something new. When you’re given paperwork on how to deliver the ‘perfect Ofsted lesson’ you need to be brave to rock the boat. It’s not necessarily Ofsted who need to be open to new theories, it’s school leaders who need to be brave and take a leap of faith (too dramatic?). When it comes down to it though we are experimenting with children’s lives and the ethical implications of that. You can offer a successful drug to placebo patients after an RCT, you can’t offer a science intervention once the GCSE results are out.
Of course practitioner research doesn’t have to be massive or whole-school. You can conduct your own action research in your own class and it’s good to take a step back for a bit of reflective practice. The thing that has really excited me is the potential for partnership with academic researchers, not only in the education faculties but other departments in universities. Getting pupils interested in research, how to do it properly and how it relates to the ‘real world’ is a fantastic opportunity. I think the fire has been lit for research in education and it’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t go out. Let’s be brave!