The Contribution of Gaining an Academic Qualification to Teachers’ Professional Learning

Feb. 01, 2011

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 37, No. 1, February 2011, 37–49.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In recent years, there has been an increasing trend for experienced primary teachers to undertake a degree qualification in New Zealand.
This study was interested to examine the question ‘In what ways does the completion of a Bachelor of Education (Teaching) degree contribute to practicing primary teachers’ professional learning?’
A pragmatic, mixed methods research approach was used in this study.
The investigation involved two sequential phases: first, a quantitative/qualitative phase in the form of a questionnaire, and second, a qualitative phase that involved semi-structured interviews.
The participants
202 primary teachers responded to the questionnaire. Most respondents were women and Pakeha (New Zealand European), with a smaller representation of men and of other ethnic groups, including Maori and Pacific Island groups.
Two thirds of the participants had over 20 years’ teaching experience .

Eight teachers were selected for the semi-structured interviews on the basis of their position in the school.
The 202 questionnaire respondents were categorized into four groups according to their position in the school, namely basic scale A teacher, senior teacher, assistant/deputy principal, and principal. The prospective interviewees were then randomly selected from these groups. Consequently, four participants were basic scale A teachers, one was a senior teacher, two were deputy principals, and one was a principal.


The teachers’ questionnaire and interview responses provided convincing evidence that they perceived that degree study had made a significant contribution to their professional learning.
As a consequence of their degree study, the teachers reported that their knowledge and actions extended to their school community.
The questionnaire respondents reported that their understanding of school-wide practices had resulted in a more active role in the school community, rather than focussing solely on their own classroom.
In reconstructing their own identities as more knowledgeable professionals, many participants increased their contribution to a professional school culture by creating and supporting professional learning opportunities for other teachers.


The present study highlighted the importance of bodies of knowledge different from those often emphasised in more accepted, or traditional forms of teacher professional development.
Indeed, the knowledge acquired through their degree study had the potential to contribute to, and assist the teachers to look critically at the content other forms of professional development.

In conclusion, the present study contributes to the professional development literature.
Furthermore, this study also makes a significant contribution to what has been, until now, a limited body of research reporting teachers’ perceptions of their professional learning in completing a formal qualification after the initial teaching qualification was gained.

This study provides convincing evidence that university study towards a formal academic qualification has the potential to contribute to teachers’ understandings of more acknowledged forms of teacher professional development.

Updated: May. 14, 2012