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Education master’s degree guide

You can do a master’s in education, a PGCE or a PhD. It depends whether you want to be a teacher, think critically about the education system or conduct research in the field. Use our guide to find out more.


What is an education master’s degree?

Studying education at postgraduate level will help you become a teacher or work in a career that focuses on the field of education.

During a degree course, you could:

  • Learn how to benefit children and learners through teaching
  • Engage in discussions of how to build a fairer education system
  • Contribute to the field of education through in-depth research

If you studied education for your bachelor’s degree, a postgraduate course will be a good step up. Each education degree option is quite different, so it’s worth looking into the different ones thoroughly.


Why do a master’s degree in education?

A master’s degree will give you a higher-level understanding of what it means to be a teacher. Courses tend to be informed by the latest findings and practices, and you get to work alongside other teacher trainees and education experts.

You’ll develop education-specific skills, such as an ability to apply certain principles from one context to another. You’ll also develop transferable skills like:

  • Critical thinking
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Organisation
  • Problem-solving
  • Research and analysis
  • Written and verbal communication

Teacher training courses are often approved by the Department for Education. This means you gain qualified teacher status (QTS) after you've completed the course.


What qualifications can you get?

Qualification options include masters, doctorates, certificates and diplomas in education. Each has a slightly different focus and style of teaching.

Taught masters in education

Both Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MSc) qualifications in education are available. They encourage you to think critically about different areas of education, such as in a cultural, social or structural context.

These are often aimed at qualified teachers or other professionals looking to enhance their knowledge, such as nurses, therapists or others in the education sector. Education master’s courses do not lead to QTS.

Teacher training courses

The Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) and Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) are teacher training courses. They prepare you for a career as a primary or secondary school teacher, and usually result in QTS. You can earn up to 60 credits of a master’s degree.

Courses blend academic study and practical classroom experience, so you’re ready to teach after graduating. As a secondary school teacher, you choose a school subject to be a knowledge expert on, such as English, maths or science.

Research education

A postgraduate research degree in education could be a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Courses enable you to conduct deep research into the field of education and consider global issues. You'll be supported by academic supervisors while working on your independent research project.


What jobs can you do with a master’s degree in education?

Master’s graduates usually work in education, often in senior or leadership positions, research or education policy. Other options include international development projects, administrative roles in private or public sector organisations or community and youth work.

PGCE courses are designed to prepare you for a teaching career in environments like:

  • Primary schools
  • Secondary schools
  • Nurseries
  • Special schools
  • Sixth forms
  • Further education/adult colleges

Other graduates go on to further study and complete a doctorate degree or work in research.


What are the education master’s degree requirements?

To qualify for a master’s course, you’ll usually need:

  • MA/MSc – bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) with upper second-class honours (2:1) in education, teaching, English or a relevant social science degree. Or a bachelor’s degree and several years of relevant experience

Depending on the course and university, you might need relevant work experience and to demonstrate a strong interest in the area. Health and background checks might also be required, such as a DBS, especially if your course involves working with the public.

For other postgraduate courses, you’ll usually need:

  • PGCert/PGDip – at least grade C GCSEs in English and maths (or equivalent) and a second-class degree in a subject relevant to your main teaching subject (if applicable)
  • MPhil/PHD – same requirements as a masters, and a merit in a master’s degree. You may need to submit a research proposal that shows your understanding of the field and ability to plan an independent research project


What education courses are there?

Examples of postgraduate education courses in the UK:

  • Deaf Education MA
  • Doctor of Education EdD
  • Education (Early Years) MA
  • Education MSc
  • Education & Training PGCE
  • Higher Education MA
  • Professional Education PhD/MPhil
  • Primary Education (with qualified teacher status) PGCE

What do you learn in an education master’s degree?

Typical module topics or areas you could focus your research efforts on include:

  • Children with autism
  • Citizenship, human rights and the environment
  • Critical education policy and leadership
  • Disadvantage and poverty
  • Education and psychology
  • Education for social justice
  • International education
  • Language, discourse and society
  • School improvement
  • Special education needs

If you’re training to be a secondary school teacher, you learn how to teach your chosen subject. Subjects include:

  • Chemistry
  • Computer science
  • English
  • Geography
  • Languages
  • Mathematics
  • Physics 


How will you be taught and assessed?

On an education master’s (MA/MSc), you could learn through lectures, seminars, peer-group projects, workshops and self-study. Assessment could be through written essays, exams, coursework, presentations, research projects and a dissertation.

Teacher training courses (PGCE/PGDE) are intensive courses where you begin with academic study and then learn on practical placements in schools. You’ll be observed on your placements and could be assessed through placement coursework, essays, exams, presentations and group projects.

If you pursue a research degree (MPhil/PhD), you’ll be guided by specialist supervisors but receive less support than on a taught course. You’ll be assessed on your independent research project (thesis) and accompanying oral exam (viva).


How long is a master’s degree in education?

Education courses are usually the following lengths:

  • PGCE/PGDE – one year with 24 weeks of school placements
  • MA/MSc – one to two years
  • MPhil – one to two years
  • PhD – three to four years

Part-time courses can last twice as long.


Similar subjects to education

Other similar subjects to education that you could study include:

  • Behaviour science
  • Counselling
  • Criminology
  • Psychology
  • Psychotherapy
  • Social policy
  • Social work
  • Speech and language therapy
  • Youth studies 

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