Select Committee on Science and Technology Tenth Report

CHAPTER 4: Teacher Recruitment and Retention

4.1.  Ensuring that there is a sufficient supply of qualified and well-trained teachers is crucially important in the teaching of science and mathematics, as with any other subject. In order to monitor the situation, both in terms of vacancy levels and in terms of the number of teachers teaching outside their own subject area, accurate and comprehensive data are essential.

4.2.  However, some witnesses expressed concern that such data were not available. The National Union of Teachers (NUT), for example, told us that the data have not been "sufficiently robust to draw significant conclusions on staffing for science" (p 81). Similarly, the ASE, whilst praising the recent study undertaken by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER),[28] noted that it was "unaware of any plans to systematically monitor the situation over the coming years" (p 95). The Royal Society also wanted to know how the Government were intending to "keep track of [their] own progress by the regular collection of detailed data on the qualifications and deployment of teachers" (p 61).

4.3.  When we asked Schools Minister Jim Knight MP about this issue, he recognised that "we could and should do better in order to fulfil the aspirations we have got to improve the recruitment and retention of teachers in science". He went on to assure us that "from 2008/9 we will require every school through IT to be able to submit returns to us on an annual basis right down to individual teacher level so that we can monitor ... what the movement is and what the trends are" (Q 21). This is a welcome initiative, and we trust that the Government will do everything necessary to ensure that the necessary IT systems are in place in order that it can start on schedule.

Teacher shortages

4.4.  The scale of teacher vacancies in science and mathematics is a major concern. Ofsted, quoting from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector's 2004/5 report, said that "since 1998 the teacher vacancy rate [in science] has nearly quadrupled and in January 2005 the number of unfilled posts was 250, the highest for any subject" (p 39). The NUT also noted that "targets for recruitment to science teaching have only been met in three years (1991-1993) in the last 25 years" (p 81). However, it appears that the situation has started to improve in the last few years. The Government told us that the number of people training to become teachers had increased "by 18 per cent in science and 41 per cent in mathematics from 2001/02 to the present", and that the science and mathematics teacher vacancy rate had been reduced "to 0.9 per cent from 1.6 per cent in 2001 and 1.0 per cent from 2 per cent respectively" (pp 1-2).

4.5.  One of the most crucial problems regarding recruitment of science teachers is the availability of people appropriately qualified to teach the subject, especially in the case of physics, chemistry and mathematics. The NFER report mentioned above provides the most up-to-date analysis of who exactly is teaching the sciences and mathematics in schools. It found that, of all secondary science teachers:

Moreover, only 76 per cent of mathematics teachers were specialists in the subject. Accordingly, the report noted, "many schools are using non-specialists or teachers of other subjects to make up for the shortfall of scarce specialists". Worryingly, this practice tended to be most widespread in the lowest attaining schools, those serving areas of socio-economic deprivation and those with an 11-16 age range.[29]

4.6.  The Royal Society of Chemistry, responding to these findings, commented that "there are some schools without a single appropriately qualified chemistry or physics teacher and a substantial number in which the majority of Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 science lessons are taught by biologists or those without a mainstream science qualification" (p 46). The Mathematical Association also expressed concern about the "hidden shortage" of mathematics teachers caused by the employment of many teachers "with weak subject knowledge and inadequate training in teaching the subject" (p 158).

4.7.  Physics appears to face the most serious problem of all. A report by the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham found that "in the schools and colleges of England and Wales, 37.7 per cent of the teachers of physics/physical processes to 14-18 year-olds had physics as their main subject of qualification".[30] The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) claimed that "at GCSE level 30 per cent of physics teachers do not have an A-level in the subject" (p 143), and the NFER report found that one quarter of 11-16 schools have no physics specialists at all.[31]

4.8.  The precarious situation with physics specialists does not look set to improve. The report by the Centre for Education and Employment Research reported that "the stock of physics teachers qualified in physics is diminishing", explaining that whereas 39.0 per cent of those leaving the profession in 2004 had physics as their main subject, this was true of only 32.8 per cent of newly appointed teachers. Indeed, "current levels of physics teacher training output are barely sufficient to maintain the status quo".[32] Research Councils UK also pointed out that "the age profile for physics teachers is significantly older than that for teachers of the other sciences and maths" (p 198) and the Institute of Physics expected "around a third of current physics specialists to retire in the next ten years". In summary, the Institute warned, "the situation is likely to become much worse" (p 51).

4.9.  What impact does non-specialist teaching have upon students? Whilst some teachers can teach effectively outside their own specialism, particularly if they have had the requisite training, witnesses were clear about the potential downsides of being taught by a non-specialist. Ian Richardson of Ofsted was unequivocal: "detailed data ... shows a clear correlation between the match of teachers to the specific curriculum components within the science field and the success stories, the quality of teaching and the success of pupils as measured by their achievement" (Q 75). This was backed up by the Centre for Education and Employment Research's report, which found that "teachers' expertise in physics as measured by qualification is the second most powerful predictor of pupil achievement in ... physics after pupil ability".[33]

4.10.  Alongside the effect on student achievement, there can be an adverse impact on students' perception of the subject in question. The Science Learning Centres stated that "incomplete understanding and lack of confidence in a subject limits the ability of a teacher to provide deep and inspiring subject knowledge" (p 173). Similarly, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) commented that non-specialists "are unlikely to have the subject knowledge or confidence to enable them to bring exciting contemporary physics ... into the classroom" (p 191).

4.11.  Inevitably, this can have a knock-on effect on students' subject choices and indeed career choices. As the Biosciences Federation warned, poor quality teaching by a non-specialist "deters students from further study and so they are less likely to take up a science subject at A-level" (p 65). Moreover, the Royal Astronomical Society noted that "whereas teachers teaching inside their specialist area can often inspire young people into considering a career in science, when teachers are non-expert (or worse not interested) in the science subject they have to teach, it can completely turn-off the young person" (p 203).

4.12.  To counter the shortage of teachers specialising in physics, chemistry and mathematics, the Government have introduced some highly ambitious targets as part of their Next Steps programme. The aim is to "step up recruitment, retraining and retention of physics, chemistry and mathematics specialist teachers so that by 2014 25 per cent of science teachers have a physics specialism (compared to 19 per cent currently), 31 per cent of science teachers have a chemistry specialism (compared to 25 per cent currently) and the increase in the number of mathematics teachers enables 95 per cent of mathematics lessons in schools to be delivered by a mathematics specialist (compared with an estimated 88 per cent currently)" (p 2).

4.13.  Whilst these targets display admirable ambition on the part of the Government, there is some doubt as to how they will be achieved. The Royal Society of Chemistry called the targets "laudable, but short on detail" (p 47) whilst the Institution of Engineering and Technology claimed that "there has been no announcement on delivery or how to achieve these important changes" (p 154). Similarly, the Institute of Physics warned that "there does not seem to be a well-defined strategy for achieving this goal" (p 51).

4.14.  The ASE was doubtful about how realistic the targets were in any case: "with a decline in trainee teachers of physics and chemistry in recent years, an ageing science teacher population, especially with physics and chemistry specialisms, rising salaries for new science graduates and 40 per cent of science teachers leaving in [the] first five years, it is unlikely that the Government targets ... will be met" (p 96). Similarly, Research Councils UK called the targets "extremely challenging" (p 198). Nonetheless, we believe that every effort must be made to get as close to the targets as possible.

Achieving the Government's targets

4.15.  There are essentially three ways in which progress can be made towards meeting the Government targets: recruiting more physics, chemistry and mathematics specialists into teaching; training more existing or prospective teachers to teach effectively outside their specialism; and improving the retention rate of teachers, particularly specialists. Whilst the first is clearly the more desirable long-term approach, Research Councils UK warned that "it will not be sufficient to rely on the supply of new graduates entering PGCE courses" (p 198). Similarly, the Institute of Physics said that "with an average of only around 2,400 UK physics graduates each year, this shortage of teachers cannot be rectified from that source in the short to medium term" (p 52).

4.16.  Thus in the short to medium term it will be necessary to rely heavily on training existing and prospective teachers to teach outside their own specialism. As the National Advisers and Inspectors Group for Science (NAIGS) opined, "in the short term it is much better to equip the current workforce with the skills to teach outside their own area, rather than try to plug the gaps with a 'quick fix' recruitment initiative" (p 159).

4.17.  The Government have already taken significant action in this area by introducing pre-initial teacher training (ITT) enhancement courses in physics and mathematics, with a chemistry course following in January 2007. These six-month courses are funded by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) and allow prospective teachers to undertake intensive subject knowledge training in a subject outside their main specialism, provided they are qualified in that subject to at least A-level standard. According to the Government, "these courses have had high success and low dropout rates" and, of those people completing the physics and chemistry pilot courses in 2004 and 2005, around 85 per cent entered ITT. The Government told us that they were "committed to [the] existing courses for [the] next three years" and intended "to increase the number of places available from 2006" (p 19).

4.18.  The Institute of Physics was optimistic about the enhancement courses but expressed concern about the financial implications for those people taking them. Whilst the courses themselves are funded by the TDA, they only run from January to June, so prospective teachers can be left without any financial support between June and the commencement of their ITT in September. The Institute noted that participants were ineligible for student loans and suggested that "if a loan structure could be made available, the courses would have significantly more appeal to trainees" (p 52).

4.19.  Dr Colin Osborne of the Royal Society of Chemistry focused on the importance of persuading sufficient numbers of higher education institutions to offer the enhancement courses. He said that the TDA, attempting to achieve a national roll-out of the courses, was "having great difficulty in finding higher education institutions who wish to participate". He therefore felt that "there should be a greater inducement for the higher education institutions to run these kinds of courses" (Q 126).

4.20.  We welcome the provision of pre-Initial Teacher Training (ITT) enhancement courses in physics, mathematics and chemistry. We recommend that the Government implement a loan system to help participants—especially those with family commitments—to meet their living costs between the end of the course and the commencement of ITT. We also call on the Government to consider further incentives to encourage higher education institutions to participate on enhancement courses.

4.21.  The Government are also displaying a willingness to help more non-specialist practising teachers to teach physics or chemistry. The commitment, set out in Next Steps and repeated in their written evidence, is to "develop and pilot a ... programme leading to an accredited diploma to give existing science teachers without a physics and chemistry specialism the deep subject knowledge and pedagogy they need to teach these subjects effectively". Moreover, a remit was given to the School Teachers' Review Body "to advise on whether science teachers who are not physics and chemistry specialists should receive an incentive" to encourage them to complete the diploma.[34]

4.22.  Lord Adonis, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, told us that this initiative was being taken forward with the TDA and the National Science Learning Centre, but admitted that "progress at the moment is at a very early stage". He added that "it is going to take some time before we get the properly accredited diplomas in place" but he hoped to have "something very positive to show this time next year [i.e. June 2007] in terms of a worked up qualification which we can start taking forward" (QQ 43-44).

4.23.  Asked how the courses might be made attractive to teachers, Lord Adonis pointed to "bursaries and discounted costs ... so that teachers do not have to bear those costs themselves". In addition, he suggested that if the teachers "see promotion and job opportunities for themselves by this route I think they will find that quite attractive", particularly in the case of biologists who could "improve their employability in the professions" by gaining a physics qualification (Q 45).

4.24.  A clear system of accreditation—accompanied by appropriate rewards—is essential if practising teachers without a physics or chemistry specialism are to be persuaded to give up their time to take courses which will qualify them to teach these subjects more effectively. We recommend that the Government introduce such a scheme as soon as possible.

4.25.  The long-term imperative must be to recruit more physics, chemistry and mathematics specialists. A key issue is the availability of the "raw materials"—in other words, the number of graduates in the key shortage subjects. As John Bangs of the NUT told us, "there are not enough graduates (particularly with physics and chemistry degrees) coming out of universities. That is the core problem. Ergo, there are not enough graduates with physics and chemistry degrees going into teaching" (Q 160). The problem is not that physics or chemistry graduates are more averse to a teaching career than graduates in other subjects, but that there are simply not enough graduates in these subjects. In the words of Elspeth Farrar, of Imperial College Careers Service, the percentage of physics graduates going into teaching is in fact "quite a lot higher than the average across all degree areas" (Q 163). Yet if the pool of graduates is too small, there will still not be enough teachers.

4.26.  This brings us back to some of the issues discussed in Chapters 2 and 3. The key to attracting more students to study science at university is inspiring teaching and effective advice from careers advisers, teachers and parents. The whole process can be a virtuous circle, whereby high quality teaching and advice encourage more students to pursue science, ultimately resulting in a larger pool of talented and highly motivated potential teachers, who can in turn encourage their students to follow in a similar path. Conversely, it can be a vicious circle whereby poor teaching and advice deter students from following science, thus diminishing the pool of graduates and potential teachers, and subsequently having an adverse effect on the next generation.

4.27.  A further issue is the willingness of students who do opt for science and mathematics degrees to take up a teaching career. According to Professor Jim Donnelly of Leeds University, speaking at our seminar, attractions for potential teachers included working with children, the pleasure of teaching something well, staying with or returning to a favoured subject and a more idealistic desire to "give something back". Teaching also offered long holidays, particularly attractive to those with families. On the other hand, deterrents included student and parent behaviour, poor salary and career opportunities and adverse working conditions (long hours, poor resourcing, stress and sometimes political interference). Finally, Elspeth Farrar of Imperial College Careers Service claimed that "teaching has lost the status that it once had", perhaps partly because of "the poor media image of education at the moment" (Q 157).

4.28.  Student behaviour, workload and status, which potentially affect teachers of all subjects, are longstanding education issues that go well beyond the remit of this inquiry. Pay is also an entrenched problem, though it is of particular relevance to science and mathematics teaching because graduates in those subjects are in such demand across industry and can command high salaries. The Government pointed to TDA research which showed that graduates in shortage subjects "saw themselves as being in a stronger labour market position—with more career choices and potentially more lucrative options". This particularly applied to potential teachers of mathematics and science, "who were aware from media coverage of their shortage value" (p 18).

4.29.  Drawing on her experience of careers advice at Imperial College, Elspeth Farrar told us that "many of those students that are doing particularly physical sciences and engineering can attract very high starting salaries, much higher than the starting salaries that are available through teaching. The average starting salary for Imperial graduates who graduated in 2005 was £26,000". Moreover, "it is not just the starting salaries, it is the progression. Many of those students will go on to careers where they are earning six figure salaries very swiftly" (Q 157).

4.30.  Financial considerations will be more important for some people than others. However, it would be naïve to imagine that graduates—many with large student debts—and those looking to switch careers would not weigh up the salary prospects of a teacher against alternatives in industry or the city. It would be unrealistic to expect teaching salaries to match those in industry, but an extra few thousands pounds could tip the balance in a potential teacher's mind in favour of a career which may offer better working conditions and a more fulfilling life. Indeed, the TDA's new recruitment campaign for physics and chemistry teachers recognises this point, with the posters focusing largely on the financial inducements available.[35] We cannot therefore agree with Schools Minister Jim Knight MP, who insisted that "teachers are not motivated by more pay ... it is not about pay at all" (Q 32).

4.31.  The Government have admittedly increased teachers' pay significantly since 1997, "with a real increase in starting salaries of 11.5 per cent, and up to 17 per cent for those in London", as well as the additional pay available through the Advanced Skills Teachers scheme (p 19). This is to be welcomed. However, the realities of the marketplace have not been reflected in teacher salaries. In spite of the serious shortage of specialist physics, chemistry and mathematics teachers, and the fact that science and mathematics graduates can often earn substantially more elsewhere than humanities graduates, teachers of those subjects remain on the same salary scale as teachers of any other subject.

4.32.  This issue was picked up as long ago as 2002, when Sir Gareth Roberts' report, SET for success, recommended that "the Government should tackle ... recruitment and retention problems through increasing the remuneration offered to teachers of these shortage subjects"—namely science, mathematics, ICT and design and technology. Similarly, the Science Learning Centres came to the conclusion that "the only effective way of recruiting extra physical scientists may be to pay them more than other teachers" (p 174).

4.33.  The Government seem muddled on this issue. Jim Knight rejected the idea of differential pay across the board for teachers of shortage subjects because "there would be a huge deadweight cost" attached (Q 40)—by which he presumably means that higher salaries are not necessary to attract teachers of these subjects in certain schools or areas of the country. Similarly, in written evidence, the Government defended the status quo, pointing out that "schools can also make extra payments above the standard pay scales to any teachers for recruitment and retention purposes and decide the amounts themselves" (p 19). However, the Government appear to have recognised that the current situation is not satisfactory, pledging in Next Steps to remit the School Teachers' Review Body to advise on "improving the use of current pay incentives and flexibilities to improve the recruitment, retention and quality of science and mathematics teachers"[36]—a commitment that was reiterated in oral evidence (Q 40).

4.34.  Amongst the teaching profession itself, there are understandable concerns over the introduction of higher pay for teachers of shortage subjects. John Bangs of the NUT said that "I think all teachers should be paid the same" (Q 174). Similarly, the ASE, whilst welcoming the remit of the School Teachers' Review Body, warned that "implementation of differential schemes could be divisive within the ... teaching profession" (p 97).

4.35.  If the targets for increasing the number of specialist teachers of physics, chemistry and mathematics are to be met, the Government must confront the issue of salaries. Whilst schools already have some flexibility with regard to salaries, the current situation is not satisfactory. We therefore recommend that the Government grant schools a specific right to offer significantly higher starting salaries to candidates specialising in physics, chemistry and other shortage subjects. The Government should simultaneously work to ensure that head teachers are aware of this power and that, where necessary, they make this information available when placing job advertisements.

4.36.  The Government have already introduced shorter-term financial incentives in the form of teacher training bursaries and "golden hellos" for postgraduate trainee teachers. Since September 2006 these have been differentiated so that science and mathematics graduates receive a £9,000 bursary and a £5,000 golden hello, whereas graduates in other shortage subjects receive £9,000 and £2,500, and those wanting to teach non-shortage subjects or primary receive a £6,000 bursary only (p 18).

4.37.  According to the Government, "newly qualified teachers noted the importance of golden hellos in encouraging them to remain in the profession through the first few, sometimes difficult, months—allowing them to develop a more balanced picture of the varying pressures of the profession during the academic year. This was particularly the case for shortage subject teachers who were more aware of the alternative careers open to them" (p 18).

4.38.  Some witnesses welcomed these incentives. The Royal Society of Chemistry commented, "there can be little doubt that the various initiatives such as training bursaries and 'golden hellos' have been successful in attracting people into science teaching" (p 47). Similarly, Professor John Howson of Education Data Surveys cited evidence that the introduction of the training bursaries, on top of the golden hellos, had helped to offset the decline in teacher training applications following the introduction of university tuition fees.

4.39.  However, a number of witnesses expressed doubts about the incentives. The National Advisers and Inspectors Group for Science (NAIGS) argued that the golden hellos were "not big enough to attract science graduates who could be earning lots more in professions other than teaching" (p 160). John Bangs of the NUT felt that the payments "only have a short-term impact" and suggested that "after two or three years the attractions of a career outside school become overwhelming and the incentive that you originally had to go in disappears" (Q 162).

4.40.  The Science Learning Centres, pointing out that around two-fifths of newly-recruited science teachers leave before their fifth year of teaching, drew attention to the Teaching and Learning Research Programme's suggestion that "those who remain as full-time science teachers for four or more years should have their student debt written off" (p 174). The proposed requirement for four years of service is considerably longer than what is required to earn a golden hello. The Institute of Physics agreed that this proposal "could be attractive" (p 52) and the Institution of Engineering and Technology put forward a similar scheme for consideration (p 155).

4.41.  Whilst the training bursaries and golden hellos offered to postgraduate trainee teachers appear to have had a positive effect, we are concerned that they may have a fairly short-term impact on the recipient. We call on the Government to examine the merits of reducing the size of the golden hello and offering instead to write off a certain amount of the student debt of new science or mathematics teachers, in return for four or five years of full-time teaching.

4.42.  It is equally important to convey to science and mathematics graduates the satisfaction that can be gained from working with children and young people and from teaching them well. The Student Associates Scheme is valuable in this regard, enabling undergraduates to go into a school and gain a "taste" of teaching. Elspeth Farrar of Imperial College told us that students had generally found the scheme to be "very interesting and very useful" and that "a reasonable proportion are carrying on to apply to do a postgraduate certificate in education". However, she warned that the participating schools "need to be picked very carefully" so that students do not have a "negative experience" (Q 175).

4.43.  The Government told us that they had agreed to fund the Student Associates Scheme "for a further three academic years from September 2006". In addition, an extra £700,000 was being made available to expand the number of mathematics and science placements, expected to number around 2,500 in 2006/07. The Government warned, however, that there had been "a degree of reticence" on the part of mathematics and science faculties within certain universities because of "the perceived time constraints on students" (p 25).

4.44.  Another valuable initiative is Teach First, which enables talented graduates to teach in schools for two years—gaining qualified teacher status so they can remain in teaching or return to it in the future if they wish—and to apply for a job with one of the scheme's business supporters afterwards. Elspeth Farrar told us that the scheme had been "a very successful way of encouraging students to experience teaching ... [it] has worked very well" (Q 167).

4.45.  Aside from recent graduates, there is a rich pool of potential teachers amongst those people wishing to change careers and teachers wishing to return to work following a career break. Good use is already being made of the first of these groups: the Government told us that 45 per cent of science teachers and 42 per cent of mathematics teachers had had another career before entering the teaching profession (p 5). Indeed, the Schools Minister, Jim Knight MP, pointed out that "the average age of new teachers coming into the state system is now 30, thanks to ... the number coming in as career switchers in their thirties and forties". He noted that this was "a transformation on the position even ten years ago ... when virtually all teachers went in doing their PGCE after university and then became lifetime teachers" (Q 28).

4.46.  Dr Michael Day of the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) illustrated the Agency's ambition in this area, telling us that "about 85 per cent of the money we spend on recruiting people into teaching is targeted at people who are already in jobs, who are looking for a second job". These efforts appeared to be paying off: Dr Day noted that teaching had been voted "the most attractive second career by a survey of old graduates" and claimed that the profession was now "very clearly the career of choice for career changers". The Graduate Teacher Programme, where people can be employed as a teacher whilst doing their training, was targeted in particular at career changers. The scheme had expanded from around 30 participants six years ago to 500 people training to be science teachers in 2004/05 (Q 204).

4.47.  John Bangs of the NUT was enthusiastic about the Graduate Teacher Programme and its sister scheme, the Registered Teacher Programme, suggesting that they were some of "the best things that have been introduced over the last few years". However, these routes were still "relatively under-resourced [and] under-cared for" and needed "good attention". A particular problem was that people on these schemes "often ... do not get the quality mentoring that they are supposed to get" whereas student teachers attached to higher education institutions tended to get proper support and therefore had "a much higher regard for themselves" as teachers (QQ 181, 183).

4.48.  The ASE agreed that employment-based routes, especially the Graduate Teacher Programme, had "made a significant contribution to recruitment" but warned that "the incentives, especially for someone who is changing careers, are not generous" (p 96). There may indeed be insufficient incentives to join an employment-based route into teaching, but a more serious problem is that career changers potentially face a move from a relatively senior position to one as an unqualified teacher earning only £14,000 per year. Moreover, those career changers without any teaching experience will face a long training period before their pay can rise to that of a qualified teacher. The danger of insisting that all new teachers must have a formal teaching qualification—even if they have extensive experience in STEM careers—is that, in the words of Elspeth Farrar of Imperial College, they will "choose to go into the private sector because they do not need teaching qualifications" (Q 180).

4.49.  Admittedly it may not be desirable to pitch career changers straight into full-blown teaching without any training whatsoever. In the words of Dr Derek Bell of the ASE, they "have to demonstrate that [they] can do it", and this requires more than "simply knowing information". He pointed instead to "assessment-only routes which are a fast track process for getting in" (Q 204). However, this option may not be suitable for a candidate with no experience of teaching but with extensive knowledge of mathematics or one of the branches of science. Elspeth Farrar proposed "an accelerated scheme" whereby people with "professional experience in industry or commerce" can "gain the QTS quickly" (Q 182). This would allow greater flexibility when preparing new teachers, and might make a move into teaching a more attractive proposition for those with great experience and knowledge to impart.

4.50.  We recommend that the Government introduce a modified version of the Graduate Teacher Programme which will allow those with extensive relevant experience of science or mathematics in industry to gain Qualified Teacher Status more rapidly. We further recommend that relevant knowledge and experience should be reflected in a higher salary for career changers commencing their teacher training.

4.51.  Many teachers also return to the profession following a career break, particularly those who have taken time off to care for children. As Marie-Noëlle Barton of WISE told us, "women still say that teaching is an excellent career for them if they want to combine a family with a job" (Q 185). The TDA has put significant efforts into tempting such people back to teaching by running a database, providing a telephone helpline and distributing a magazine which is "very heavily targeted at science and maths teachers that have taken career breaks". In addition, the TDA offers refresher courses which can help teachers returning to the classroom, along with bursaries and childcare allowances. This appears to be paying dividends: Dr Day told us that "about a quarter" of people coming into teaching were returning from a career break (Q 204).

Teacher retention

4.52.  Even if sufficient numbers of specialist science and mathematics teachers can be recruited, it is essential that they are subsequently retained. This is necessary not only to maintain teacher numbers, but also to ensure continuity in schools. The importance of such continuity was illustrated by Miriam Rosen of Ofsted, who stated that there was "a clear correlation between higher teacher mobility and less favourable inspection judgements"; she added that "in schools with high teacher mobility the subjects most affected are English, mathematics and science". Overall, she said, "the proportion of unsatisfactory science teaching was greater in schools with high teacher mobility at 12 per cent compared with five per cent for other schools" (Q 68).

4.53.  The figures on retention of science and mathematics teachers are mixed. The Government pointed to a study of teachers who qualified in 1994, which showed that just 63 per cent of science teachers and 59 per cent of mathematics teachers were teaching in maintained secondary schools a year later—and these figures had continued to drop consistently over the subsequent ten years. A later survey showed that between 74 and 84 per cent of mathematics teachers and between 72 and 82 per cent of science teachers who attained Qualified Teacher Status in summer 2004 were teaching in the maintained sector six months later. However, the Government also claimed that "retention for mathematics and all sciences has increased since 2002" and that "resignations of science specialists are roughly in proportion with what we would expect compared to the proportion of science specialists in the teaching population"—although more leave the profession altogether, rather than move schools, than the average (pp 22-23). Clearly there is room for significant improvement.

4.54.  The reasons for teachers leaving the profession tend to be similar to those deterring others from joining in the first place. At the seminar, Professor Jim Donnelly pointed to workload, student behaviour and the weight of Government initiatives as the most problematic issues. Similarly, the Government identified workload, stress, their own initiatives and personal circumstances (p 23). These issues affect all teachers, not just those teaching science and mathematics, and the search for solutions goes well beyond the remit of this report. However, we outline below the main points raised by witnesses and consider what arises from their observations.

4.55.  Amongst witnesses, student behaviour was the most frequently mentioned of these problems. John Bangs of the NUT told us that "if you have a class or a group of children who are problematic and there is low level disruption ... that will be the straw that breaks the camel's back. You will go. The trigger is pupil behaviour and that is fairly well documented" (Q 190). Similarly, the Biosciences Federation warned that "feedback from existing teachers in all subject areas shows that lack of discipline in schools is driving experienced teachers from the profession" and added that "there is a danger that accounts of these negative experiences in the media may deter more graduates from entering the profession" (p 65). Both of these outcomes are particularly problematic for those subjects, such as physics and chemistry, which are consistently struggling to recruit sufficient numbers of specialist teachers.

4.56.  The Schools Minister, Jim Knight MP, told us that Ofsted had reported that "93 per cent of secondary schools have satisfactory behaviour". In light of the other evidence we have received, it is difficult to know quite what this very high figure amounts to in reality. Indeed, Mr Knight acknowledged that discipline was "an area where we can do better". He pointed in particular to behaviour management coaching during teacher training and the measures contained in the Education and Inspections Bill currently going through Parliament (Q 32).

4.57.  The other problem most often raised by witnesses was the impact of education reform and curriculum change on teachers. On the first issue, the ASE warned that "the plethora of initiatives which face teachers and others adds further confusion resulting in 'overload' and potential inertia as schools and teachers attempt to meet the many demands placed on them" (p 100). Similarly, John Bangs referred to "stress and strain about initiatives over which [teachers] have little control" (Q 190). In the Royal Society's opinion, therefore, "policy-makers must take due account of the effects [of reform] on science teachers by properly consulting with them and their representatives before policies are finalised" (p 60).

4.58.  On curriculum change, the ASE claimed that "the rate at which system wide change has been, and is being introduced, is becoming counter-productive" and warned that "rarely has there been time to learn from the results of the changes" (p 100). Moreover, Emma Drewery, a science teacher, told us that "teachers have to adapt to the new specifications very quickly, and with little or no support, resources or funding" (p 147).

4.59.  In order to address retention levels effectively, the Government clearly must work harder to improve behaviour in schools and to minimise the impact of both education reform and curriculum change upon teachers. In addition, they must consult fully with teachers' representatives at an early stage when formulating new policies. However, the Institution of Engineering and Technology suggested a shorter-term fix in the form of retention bonuses after three, five and ten years for teachers of shortage subjects (p 155). We call on the Government to ensure that schools have sufficient powers and funds to offer generous retention bonuses to teachers of shortage subjects, and that those schools with retention problems are fully aware of these powers.

28   National Foundation for Educational Research, Mathematics and science in secondary schools: the deployment of teachers and support staff to deliver the curriculum, January 2006. Commissioned by the DfES. Back

29   ibid, pp vi, 41 and 106. Back

30   Centre for Education and Employment Research, University of Buckingham, Physics in Schools and Colleges: Teacher Deployment and Student Outcomes, November 2005, p i. Commissioned by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. Back

31   Mathematics and science in secondary schools, p 137. Back

32   Physics in Schools and Colleges, p iii. Back

33   ibid, p i. Back

34   Next Steps, p 45. Back

35   See Back

36   Next Steps, p 45. Back

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