Rachel Preece-Dawson is a primary school teacher specialising in English. She is particularly interested in formative assessment and pupil perceptions of associated practices in the classroom. The purpose of her MA research was to investigate the practice of sharing learning objectives (L.O.s) with children and pupils’ perceptions of the place of L.O.s in their learning.
I decided to study part-time for my MA (Education) with Staffordshire University after having studied there for the five previous years. I am the first member of my family to attend university, and all of my study with Staffordshire has been part-time and self-funded. I started with a Foundation Degree for Teaching Assistants, topped up to a BA (Hons) in Education, and then completed my MA (Education) in 2011. I also did a GTP (Graduate Teacher Programme) (full-time, funded) with Worcester University during the second year of my MA.
When I started my Foundation Degree, I didn’t think I would go on to achieve a BA: it just didn’t seem to be something that someone like me would do. When I then finished my BA (and achieved a first-class degree) I really didn’t think I’d go on to achieve an MA, so to achieve an MA with distinction was one of the most personally and professionally satisfying things I have experienced. One of my biggest motivators for staying on to complete my MA, and to achieving the result I did, was the belief in me shown by my Foundation Degree course leader, who also saw me through my BA and, in her now role as Head of Education at Staffordshire, became my MA supervisor. Dr Michelle Lowe showed an unwavering belief in my academic ability and awakened in me a passion for learning that I didn’t know I had. She provided the most fantastic academic and professional role model, and I certainly would not have achieved the academic success that I did without her guidance, support and belief.
The main positive about studying part-time and self-funded for my MA was that it made me very focused and motivated. I didn’t have the luxury of a flexible time scale that a student being financially backed by a funder might have had: financially, I had to complete within the prescribed time scale and, therefore, I owed it to myself and my bank account to do the best that I possibly could within that time. Additionally, the part-time nature of my study meant that I had to be very organised and dedicated. Throughout my MA I worked full-time, ran a house and looked after a family. In my second year, I was also studying for my GTP full-time, and in my third year, I was an NQT working full-time in my first teaching post. This showed me just how strong, organised and determined I can be, and has stood me in good stead since – it has taught me how to prioritise and shown me that I am a person who enjoys learning, being busy and being the very best I can be.
The negatives go hand-in-hand with the positives: the MA was very time consuming (because I couldn’t allow myself to do the bare minimum and soon found that the more I learned and read, the more I wanted to learn and read), and so family time and relaxation time were affected. My salary throughout my MA was low, and so financially my family also paid the price.
I felt very supported by the lecturers at university, especially by Dr Lowe, who was always available via email and regular tutorials/supervisor meetings. I was given clear guidance on what I needed to do, and by when, and supported along the way to completing each step. I made use of online access to the library and academic journals and e-books but, due to living some distance away from the university, did not visit the library or make use of on-site facilities. The regular Saturday lectures and meetings made me feel very supported by fellow students. The discussions with fellow students about dissertations, research methods, and all other aspects of the MA were incredibly valuable. I did not seek social integration, but I feel that part-time (almost distance) learners, would always be at a disadvantage in this aspect of university life.
My postgrad experience with Staffordshire University was a very positive one. The University encouraged fellow students to use online VLE forums and resources, but the uptake was low and online peer-to-peer support and networking didn’t really take off in the way I think the University envisaged. This was disappointing, but I think a symptom of the nature of part-time study: most students worked full-time, and so finding the time to engage in online discussions and activities was difficult.
Throughout my studies with Staffordshire, I was never really made aware of or sought information about funding. I was not aware whether any funding was available to me for my MA, but was aware that most students in my cohort were being funded by employers. Funding for teachers to take MAs is, in my area, non-existent, and yet the incredibly positive impact my research has had on my practice would suggest that funding teachers for postgrad study would be very beneficial. Dr Lowe strongly suggested that I should now develop my MA research further and consider taking it to doctoral level, but the financial cost of this is a huge (and probably the only) stumbling block. In the absence of any knowledge about funding opportunities for a Ph.D. or Ed.D., my postgrad journey, fulfilling and enjoyable as it has been has, unfortunately, come to its natural conclusion.
I do not feel disadvantaged because I completed my MA part-time. My MA is my MA – it has impacted positively on my everyday practice, helped me to secure employment and uncovered the lifelong learner in me. The fact that it was part-time and self-funded is irrelevant to those facts.