Extra central government funding should be targeted at keeping more maths and physics teachersby Luke Sibieta / May 11, 2018 / Leave a comment
The teaching profession in England is in trouble. Applications to teacher training this year are down by around 30 per cent compared with this time last year. Exit rates have also been creeping up over time and only 60 per cent of teacher trainees are actually in post five years after starting. Overall teacher numbers are currently holding steady. However, with pupil numbers expected to grow by 4 per cent in primary schools and 20 per cent in secondary schools over the next decade, teacher numbers are going to need to rise if class sizes are not to increase.
The problem also appears worse in some particular subjects, such as maths, physics, chemistry and languages, where training targets have been persistently missed over time and more teachers leave early in their career. As a result, pupils are less likely to be taught by a teacher with a degree in that subject—for example, in 2016, 45 per cent of maths teachers and 51 per cent of physics teachers had a relevant degree, compared with two thirds of history and English teachers. These figures are particularly concerning for a government that wants more pupils to take these subjects and to increase the depth of subject knowledge at GCSE.
Such instability in the teacher labour market—recently analysed by the Education Policy Institute—probably has many causes, such as workload and public perceptions of the profession. However, it hardly seems a coincidence that the last time we saw such difficulties was in the late 1990s—the last time public sector pay was significantly squeezed—and that the problems are worse in subjects where graduates have much better outside earning options, like maths and physics. The challenge of recruiting sufficient numbers of maths and science teachers is nothing new. The problems were actually first recognised in the Devonshire Report in 1875 and then again and again in a series of reports up to present day—with the Dainton Report of 1968, for instance, pointing to an acute shortage of graduate scientists in schools.
“Applications to teacher training are down by 30 per cent compared with this time last year”
The solutions that have been proposed have also been seen before. Bursaries for physics teachers were first introduced in the early 1980s and then abandoned in the 1990s on the grounds they represented poor value for money. In 2012, the Coalition supercharged bursaries for shortage subjects like maths and physics,…