Catherine Finniear is a MSc Learning and Teaching student and has previously completed a BA (Hons) degree in Primary Teaching at the University of Chichester. She is also currently in her NQT+1 year at a state primary school in Guildford. She teaches year 5 in all subjects and has been appointed the school’s Religious Education Leader.

What degree did you apply for and why was it important to you to study this?

I applied to study for the Masters in Learning and Teaching (MLT) whilst in my NQT year. Before leaving my undergraduate degree, I knew that I wanted to go back to university for further study. I never thought it would be possible to return so early on in my career. The opportunity to learn more about the reciprocal processes of learning and teaching and to have the chance to conduct my own research in these areas excited me. I knew everything I learnt would be valuable to me as a practitioner.

Please indicate what the total length of your course will be.

As I did not complete a PGCE, I am on the Part One route. The total length of the course for me will be three years. However, there is the option to suspend, which would pause the course for a year. Therefore, making the course total four years.

Please give details of your professional commitments:

I’m currently in my NQT+1 year at a large state primary school in Guildford. I am a classroom teacher in Year 5, teaching all subjects. At the end of my NQT year I was appointed the school’s Religious Education leader – a big challenge to take on. Some of my responsibilities include occasionally leading staff INSET meetings and collecting evidence of good RE teaching through observations, pupil chats and learning walks. I am also keen to support the sporting endeavours of our school, so I help coach a Year 5 netball team and, in the summer term, a tennis club.

What do you hope to go on to do once you’ve completed your postgraduate degree? What do you hope to achieve?

Once I complete the Masters in Learning and Teaching, I will still be in my first five years of teaching. However, as well as being a better teacher, I am hoping that I will not be far off taking on a senior leadership role, perhaps even with a responsibility for overall learning and teaching. I would also love to come back to the Department to study for a Doctorate.

What do you most value about the teaching at the department?

The quality of teaching I have received so far at the Department has been exceptional. Participating in seminars led by academics and researchers that I have heard about and read the work of, but have never met in person, is great! The teaching is up-to-date since it is shaped by older, more influential research as well as the most current research, often conducted by the academics at the Department.  Everything I learn on a seminar weekend, as well as most of the readings we are set, I find directly applicable to my practice in the classroom.

Why do you think it’s important to study education?

For me, the answer to this is simple. I think I can always be a better teacher, so learning more about education is a no-brainer. Immersing myself in influential research is going to have a direct, positive impact on the children I teach.

What’s the community (student & staff) like at the department?

There is a genuine sense of community at the Department. My fellow students on Part One (and Part Two) are friendly and keen to offer help and advice where they can. The course benefits from an embedded culture of learning from one another; I am able to learn from Deputy Heads of independent secondary schools and NQT+1s like me. The staff are incredibly approachable. My supervisors are keen to assist where they can and point me in the direction of others who may have more experience in the field I am researching.

What has your degree taught you most?

So far, the MLT degree has taught me that I am not going to save the world with my educational research, yet! I went into the process believing that I was going to be conducting pioneering research in my first year. The reality is that this would be impossible. So, I have learnt that small steps are fine; I am learning the fundamental skills of research.

How do you get involved in other research activities within the department and what are they? What further opportunities have you gained so far through your degree? 

Being on the MLT means that I am a member of the Department of Education. The Department usually runs seminars on Mondays, which I am able to attend. In September 2018, the REES Centre ran a seminar on Attachment Theory. The seminar presenters asked whether anyone would be keen to form an action research group as a result. I volunteered and for two months I kept observational notes of my class as well as meeting up with the rest of the action group.

What’s your favourite thing about studying at the department?

Despite living an hour away from Oxford, I still feel at home whilst in the university and when undertaking university study outside of Oxford. The great IT facilities and community of staff and students means that I do not feel far away and that my time at the department is well spent. I’m able to teach full-time as well as study; it’s great!

What’s been your favourite thing about the course to date?

My favourite thing on the course to date has been a seminar on Assessment for Learning by Victoria Elliott. Hearing about Velda’s research on assessment, particularly the EEF review (A Marked Improvement?) that she led on written marking, gave me lots to think about and take back to school. The questions I came away with after this seminar shaped my first year assignment.