From September 2014, any postgraduate trainee teacher just starting their course would have enrolled on a 2-year Professional Master of Education (Level 9 degree on the NFQ). Prior to this, the 18-month Higher/Graduate Diploma in Education (NFQ Level 8) was sufficient. The change for undergraduate trainee teachers was that all B.Ed. courses must increase from 3 years to 4 years (remains at NFQ Level 8). Overall, there is no difference to what each course trains you to do.
The change from Level 8 to Level 9 for the postgraduate courses raises some issues.
- From June 2016, the first cohort of PMEs will qualify. They will battle it out with other PMEs and many B.Ed.s for any bit of teaching work they can get their hands on. Will PMEs be deemed to be ‘higher qualified’ than B.Ed.s based on having their training set at a higher level on the NFQ? Will there be a visible divide on this basis? Interestingly, the PMEs’ teacher training will be of a shorter duration.
- Will PMEs, during the course of their training, be expected to pitch their work for assessment at a higher level than their B.Ed. equivalents, due to being one step higher on the NFQ? Will this result in making it more difficult to pass the PME or to achieve a good result?
- Will a PME be deemed to be equivalent to an M.Ed., M.A., M.Sc. etc. in terms of academic progression? For teachers considering doctoral studies, will the PME fulfil the requirement to hold a master’s degree?
This creates two-tier teacher training. Teachers qualified at both levels will be trained to do the same job but there will not be equivalence of experience, achievement or outcome. A master’s degree should have a strong research element and while the PME (and now the B.Ed.) will have a minor dissertation element, I do not believe that it is comparable. An M.Ed. requires a number of years of teaching experience as a pre-requisite to entry into the course so that students will have a solid grounding in educational practice, therefore they will be deemed capable of presenting their work at a higher level. This will be missing for PME students.
Whatever the arguments are for or against lengthening these training courses, the big issue here is the reclassification to master’s level. All these issues could have been avoided if the new two-year course was still classified as a Higher/Graduate Diploma in Education at NFQ Level 8. There is no reason why this could not have been the case. Next year we will begin to see the implications of this decision.