A teacher-led masters programme: the HertsCam MEd in Leading Teaching and Learning

David Frost with Emma Anderson-Payne, Sheila Ball, Paul Barnett, Liz Brown, Steve Emmett, Tracy Gaiteri, Clare Herbert, Joe Hewitson, Val Hill, Sarah Lightfoot, Jo Mylles, Paul Rose, Maria Santos-Richmond, Alis Rocca, Liza Timpson and Adrienne Viall

The first time that a team from HertsCam attended an international academic conference to present a paper about our new programme, I ran into a familiar face at the opening Reception, an Emeritus Professor from a distant university. He enquired what our presentation was to be about. When I told him that it was about a masters degree programme taught by school teachers he looked aghast. “What qualifies them to do that?” he asked in a tone of voice which suggested incredulity. On behalf of the HertsCam MEd Teaching Team, I write here to provide the incredulous professor with an answer.

The MEd programme

First, I need to clarify the nature of the programme. The HertsCam MEd in Leading Teaching and Learning is designed and managed by HertsCam which is a teacher-led organisation constituted as an independent charity (www.hertscam.org.uk). A partnership between HertsCam and the University of Hertfordshire (UH) allows for the award of a degree, but this should not be misunderstood. It is not a franchise, nor is it a case of outsourcing the teaching of a UH course. It is HertsCam’s own programme. The award of the degree is possible because the HertsCam MEd has been validated by UH as an external programme and the process of validation was rigorous and challenging. It began with a conversation with Sal Jarvis, the Dean of the School of Education at that time, in which she explained that the University is committed to working in partnership with other organisations in the community This reflected a belief that better knowledge can created when organisations engaged in professional and practical endeavours collaborate with an academic institution. A meeting of minds was immediately apparent which opened the door for the process of validation.

Validation was not simply an event. Nor was it simply the submission and acceptance of a proposal. It was a rigorous process over a period of around six months in which UK and European quality assurance standards were applied (ENQA, 2009; QAA, 2015). The process involved a series of meetings in which various configurations of colleagues in the School of Education and the Centre for Academic Quality Assurance scrutinised our proposals and challenged us to specify and clarify what might have been taken for granted. We were also called upon to address that which seemed inconsistent with our stated aims and to develop policies which would enable us to improve the programme. When the date of the ‘Validation Event’ eventually came round, our proposal was well developed and robust. The process of consultation, scrutiny and negotiation had been very effective in transforming our programme into one that both sides of the partnership could be proud of.

The programme that emerged from this validation process began in September 2015. It was designed to enable participants to become effective agents of change who would initiate, design and lead development projects, resulting in improvements in aspects of professional practice and better learning outcomes for children in schools. The term ‘project’ here should not be construed as research or enquiry; the projects designed and led by participants in the Hertscam MEd constitute development work defined as:

strategic, focused and deliberate action intended to bring about improvements in professional practice. It takes the form of collaborative processes featuring activities such as consultation, negotiation, reflection, self-evaluation and deliberation which take place in planned sequence.

(Ball, Lightfoot & Hill, 2017: 75)

The core aims of the masters programme is to enable teachers, regardless of any formal position they may hold, to exercise leadership through a development project of their own design and instigation (Frost, 2013).

Teachers teaching teachers

Now to the incredulous professor’s concern. Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of this MEd programme is that it is taught entirely by a team of ‘scholar practitioners’, all experienced school teachers. This is unusual, perhaps even unique. While it is undoubtedly the case that masters programmes often have contributors who are practicing teachers, the HertsCam masters programme is the only one we know of that is managed and taught by school teachers. The Teaching Team consists entirely of teachers who see themselves as ‘scholar practitioners’ (Herbert, 2010). They hold senior posts in secondary or primary schools and are passionate advocates of good educational practice. They are all graduates of an earlier version of the MEd[1] and have continued to engage in postgraduate study, research and publication. As indicated by the anecdote at the beginning of this piece, the identity of members of the Teaching Team was controversial and the issue was examined closely as part of the validation process described above. It was also a question raised by a visiting Research Fellow when she interviewed members of the first cohort of participants. The responses were very positive, for example:

I am glad that we are being taught by experienced practitioners. It means that it is relevant. They have empathy with what we struggle with in school.

(Researcher’s interview with participant, Sept. 2015)

This comment is typical and the positive view illustrated here has been sustained over the three years since the beginning of the programme. I have attended almost every session of the MEd since the beginning in September 2015 in the role of observer and have noted a remarkably high standard of teaching.

A pedagogy for empowerment

As part of the validation process, we were asked to make an explicit statement about the mode of teaching and learning that would characterise the programme. Following a systematic consultation with teachers within the HertsCam Network, we specified what we called our Pedagogy for Empowerment, expressed as a set of seven principles which state that our approach should:

  • cultivate participants’ moral purpose as a dimension of their professionality.
  • enable participants to design and lead development projects aimed at improvements in professional practice.
  • enable the development of a learning community in which enhanced social capital allows critical friendship to flourish.
  • enable participants to reflect on their experience and make sense of it through participation in structured dialogic activities.
  • build the capacity for critical reflection and narrative writing through which participants can apply their scholarship to illuminate problem solving in professional contexts.
  • feature the use of discursive and conceptual tools to deepen understanding of themes relevant to the development of educational practice.
  • include the organisation of networking and opportunities for international engagement in order to build professional knowledge and foster mutual inspiration.

Having an explicit statement about our pedagogical principles has enabled us to generate tools for self-evaluation and monitoring. These principles reflect our shared professional values which guide the evaluation and development of the programme. They have also informed studies of our work including the EFFeCT project (Woods, Roberts & Chivers, 2016). In my observation role, I have used the pedagogical principles as a framework and am confident in saying that the teaching and general operation of the programme is consistent with its stated aims.

Successful outcomes

Our first cohort of participants completed their final assignment in August 2017. Each of their four assignments had been assessed by the Teaching Team and moderated by the UH School of Education and examined at a UH Board. Comments from the External Examiner indicate that the standard and quality of our approach to marking is consistently high.

The first Graduation Ceremony subsequently took place on 14th October 2017 with all of the sixteen members of that cohort receiving their degrees on that day. A one hundred per cent success rate is unusual. In the image which introduces this piece, one of the graduates is making a speech on behalf of the cohort. The ceremony was organised and managed by HertsCam with teachers undertaking every aspect of the event. We had invited Sal Jarvis, who had become a Pro-Vice Chancellor, to address the assembled gathering. It was deeply satisfying to hear her reflect on the value of partnerships in which a scholarly approach to professional problem solving could flourish. At the time of writing, the publication of a book which showcases the work of these sixteen pioneers is imminent (Frost, Ball, Hill & Lightfoot, forthcoming) and we hope that this will show policy makers that the potential for transformation lies within the teaching profession itself.


Ball, S., Lightfoot, S. and Hill, V. (2017) ‘A teacher-led masters programme: a breakthrough in school and teacher development’, in D. Frost (Ed.) Empowering teachers as agents of change: a non-positional approach to teacher leadership, Cambridge: LfL the Cambridge Network, pp. 72-78.

ENQA (European Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education) (2009) Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. Available at: www.enqa.eu/files/esg_3edition%20(2).pdf [Accessed: 10 December 2009]

Frost, D. (2013) Teacher-led development work: a methodology for building professional knowledge, HertsCam Occasional Paper April 2013. Letchworth: HertsCam Publications. Available at: www.hertscam.org.uk [Accessed: 10 December 2013]

Frost, D., Ball, S., Hill, V. and Lightfoot, S. (Eds.) (Forthcoming) Teachers as Agents of Change: a masters programme taught by teachers Letchworth: HertsCam Publications.

Herbert, T. R. (2010) ‘The Scholar-Practitioner Concept and its Implications for Self-Renewal’, Scholar-Practitioner Quarterly, 4 (1), 33-41.

QAA (2015) The UK Quality Code for Higher Education: Overview and Expectations. Available at: www.qaa.ac.uk/en/Publications/.../Quality-Code-Overview-2015.pdf. [Accessed: 8 February 2015]

Woods, P. A., Roberts, A. and Chivers, L. (2016) Collaborative Teacher Learning: Cases from the HertsCam Network, Hatfield, Hertfordshire: Centre for Educational Leadership, School of Education, University of Hertfordshire.