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If you're a teacher, thinking of starting an MA and wondering how it will work for you, read our interview with Samuel Yates, who is a full time Head of Religious Education at a Secondary SchooI in Norfolk and starting his second year of a part-time MA in Religious Studies at the University of Chester. 
Samuel Yates

We started by asking him why he chose the course.

“I wanted to undertake the MA to improve my subject knowledge. Coming from a sociology background I wanted to improve my subject knowledge in the study of religions as I teach RS from year 7 to 11. I also teach Sociology at A level , including a module called Beliefs in Society and so wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the religious element of the course. My personal academic interests fall in the broad category of the sociology of religion and I hope to undertake a PhD in the future.  One of the main reasons for studying the course was that I wanted to progress my career but not necessarily in a leadership capacity. I appreciate the fact that the MA was not necessarily pedagogically focused but offered an advanced induction into the academic field. The course has been invaluable in supporting my teaching practice. I can honestly say that it has transformed me from a non-specialist into a subject specialist, and I’m much better able to support pupil progress.”

And how has the course been?

“I‘ve found the workload challenging but not overwhelming. The department are fantastic at providing support and signposting other support systems if needed. I found there to be pinch points throughout the year with assignments, but this was partly as a result of a choice I made to do all five modules in one year, to ensure I only had my dissertation to complete in my final year. As a Head of Department, I have had to use my time effectively to ensure neither teaching nor my studies have been impeded.  The student decides at what pace to follow the MA, in conversation with the Programme Leader. This was the speed that worked for me. Other teachers choose to take it more slowly or balance it differently. I’ve found the opportunity to meet like-minded people and discuss a range of ideas so beneficial. I particularly enjoyed the taught modules as I was able to discuss key texts and ideas with published academics in the field.”

What has been most challenging, so far?

“I found the module on the Book of Revelation to be especially challenging. This was mainly because I had no prior subject knowledge, but I was thoroughly supported by the tutor, Professor Paul Middleton, and my peers. They made me feel like no question was out of place, which enabled me to get to grips with the theological elements of the module.”

What opportunities has the MA given you for new experiences?

“The TRS Department requires MA students to present at least once a year at the MA Symposium. This offers students an opportunity to present their work in a conference environment to peers and lecturers. This year, I presented work in progress to the Symposium. It was a paper entitled The Non-Sacred Canopy: Non-Religious Identification and Covid-19, a topic which I hope to explore further in my career. I was supported to present a paper on the same subject at the Implicit Religion conference (an international academic conference) which I found to be hugely beneficial for my own career development as it widened my engagement with the academic community. I was also given the opportunity to review Dr Christopher Cotter's 2020 volume The Critical Study of Non-Religion: Discourse, Identity and Locality for publication in the Fieldwork in Religion journal. I was thoroughly supported in these efforts by academic staff, and this has led to subsequent reviewing.” 

How have you funded the MA?

“I have been fortunate to have been accepted onto the scholarship programme at the Culham St Gabriel Trust - which was advertised on the course page - and so my tuition fees have been paid for by the Trust. There are other funding alternatives which the University were more than happy to help with prior to me receiving the scholarship.”

What advice would you give to a teacher contemplating a Masters?

“One key consideration is the decision between a Religious Studies MA and an Educational Leadership MA. For me, the Religious Studies MA has been far more applicable due to its focus on subject content rather than strategic and managerial frameworks in education. Leadership and Pedagogical MAs are undoubtedly valuable, but this subject-focused MA suited both my professional aspirations and my academic interests. I would advise anyone looking at MAs to consider both these factors, and research carefully before deciding. Some Universities, including Chester, offer the chance to do a standalone module to see if it suits you. I would definitely recommend giving it a try!”

Thanks so much Samuel! We wish you all the best with your dissertation and with the teaching year ahead!

For further information on the Culham St Gabriel’s Masters Scholarship see: