The Scottish Government has been accused of ‘clipping the wings’ of committed teachers after it decided to withdraw funding for ‘vital’ Masters level professional development.

Officials claim that they are ‘unable’ to offer financial support due to budget ‘pressures’ but critics expressed ‘huge concern’ and warned that the move risks pushing more teachers out of the classroom.

In a letter to councils and universities, dated 2 June 2023, a senior government official confirms that they will not provide funding  ‘during the financial year 2023-24 for the initiative that allows teachers to engage with masters level learning.’ The Herald understands that the Scottish Government will save in the region of £700k with the cut.

The letter points to ‘a challenging financial position for the Scottish Government and the public sector in general’ before specifically highlighting teachers’ recently agreed pay deal, secured after historic strike action. It then adds: ‘It is in that context that we have had to reconsider the funding for masters level learning.’

Despite this, the letter states that the government continues to ‘value the importance of teacher professional learning’, before advising that only those applying for Headteacher programmes ‘set at masters level’ will be eligible for support.

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Asked whether the government would commit to restoring the funding for the next financial year, a spokesperson told the Herald only that they would be ‘open to considering reinstating funding for this programmes should future budget provisions allow.’

In 2019, the final report from the Independent Panel on Career Pathways for Teachers made an explicit recommendation to ‘promote teaching as a Masters profession’, a shift that would emulate countries such as Finland, where all teachers are required to hold a Master’s degree.

The report argues that masters level study for teachers helps to develop their ‘depth of knowledge, understanding and experience’ and supports ‘the delivery of high quality learning, teaching and leadership.’ It also suggests that Masters programmes should be aligned with new career options for teachers and that ‘these qualifications should continue to be funded through Scottish Government grants for masters qualifications.’

At the time, then education secretary John Swinney welcomed the report’s recommendations, arguing that supporting teachers’ development will ‘allow valued current teachers to flourish and increase their skills in new directions, for greater job satisfaction and to enhance the learning experience for pupils.’

Speaking to The Herald, one teacher who has recently completed a Masters course argued that such programmes offer significant advantages:


‘Completing my masters has been hugely beneficial to both me and my students. It has given me the chance to improve not only my own teaching practice but also that of my colleagues, which benefits students across the school. Also, getting the change to be a student again and revisit skills I’ve not had to use in almost two decades has been fantastic for giving me a renewed appreciation of the challenges pupils face.’

A spokesperson for the Scottish Council of Deans of Education, a body which represents the eleven institutions responsible for teacher education, told The Herald that they are ‘disappointed and concerned’ at the withdrawal of funding for masters-level study.

‘This funding has been an important means by which teachers can continue their professional learning and development through further study and is integral as part of a pathway towards developing curricular and pedagogical expertise in classroom, as well as an essential part of the leadership pathway in Scotland.

‘Opportunities such as this are vital to supporting the teaching profession, particularly during a period of considerable change.

‘We hope that this is a temporary measure to address budgetary pressures and the funding will be restored in subsequent years.’

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Andrea Bradley, General Secretary of Scotland’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS), warned that the lack of financial support for teachers’ professional development is damaging Scottish education.

‘Not so long ago, Scotland was aspiring to have an all Masters-qualified teaching profession to ensure the highest possible standards in teaching. Sadly, budget-cutting led to the extremely short-sighted closure of Scotland’s world-leading Chartered Teacher scheme, with its eventual intended replacement – the Lead Teacher programme – having so far failed to take off, largely as a result of financial pressures on local authorities.

‘While funding for Headship programmes is welcome, this does nothing to address the situation where many experienced class teachers, who do not aspire to headship, and who wish to embark on Masters-level learning to enrich their professional practice, find that without funding, their wings are clipped.

‘An increasing number of these teachers are choosing to leave the profession early rather than to tread water for the rest of their careers. This leads to a loss of experience and expertise from our schools, which is bad for students, for teachers and for Scottish education.’

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: ‘The recent teacher pay deal is the largest in twenty years and was made against a challenging financial backdrop. It is in that context that we have had to reconsider funding for masters-level learning for teachers this year.

‘We continue to value the importance of professional development for teachers and we are investing £800,000 this year in the Into Headship programme to support future school leaders.’