teacher training

According to a report in the Sunday Times schools are offering maths and science teachers ‘golden hellos’ of up to £20,000 and six figure salaries to entice them away from City jobs. In other words, we have a critical shortage of teachers in these key subjects; subjects that are vital for the country’s economic future.

Understandably, schools have to focus on the symptoms of the problem. The pool of maths and science graduates is so small that a form of ‘bribery’ needs to be introduced.

So desperate is the problem that the Sunday Times reports that a government advisor tried to persuade a graduate in English applying to become a primary school teacher to change tack and to train to teach maths in secondary schools. The advice was given on the basis that the graduate concerned has achieved a Grade C in maths A-Level. Given grade inflation, a Grade C equates to the Grade E of around 20 years ago. It is about the maths level of an average 15-year-old in Shanghai, today.

Are things really so bad? Probably worse! Labour and Lib-Dem politicians have been calling for all teachers in state schools to be ‘qualified’. What they mean is that teachers should have a qualification in teaching before they enter the classroom. What they do not seem to have understood is that a teaching qualification is a qualification to teach any subject at any level.

In fact, we have around 70 percent of secondary school physics teachers teaching physics without a physics degree. For maths the figure is around 50 percent. If we include primary school teachers of science and maths, matters look far, far worse. The fact is that few teachers of science and maths have a subject qualification to teach those subjects. However, what they nearly all have is a teaching qualification.

On a phone-in programme I did for BBC 5-Live a maths graduate was interviewed. He was completing his one year Postgraduate Certificate in Education – the teacher training qualification. I expect listeners were amazed to hear him explaining that on his year’s course for teaching maths, he estimated that only one hour and a half was spent on teaching him and his fellow students on how to actually teach maths.

True, this was supplemented by a lot of lesson observation, but the extent of his dissatisfaction with his teacher training was obvious. He was right to feel let down.

Teacher training is over-loaded with politically correct indoctrination but does too little to develop subject knowledge and how to pass this on to youngsters in an ordered classroom.

Posh private schools will continue to focus on recruiting applicants with first rate subject qualifications and with a vocation for teaching. Most state schools will remain locked-in to the products of teacher training regardless of academic excellence.

If we need an evaluation of the effectiveness of politicians in solving problems such as this in education we need do no more than look around us. They are out of their depth and have been for a very long time.

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