STEM subjects lead retreat from teaching

In March 2010 I talked to the UCET (University Council for the Education of Teachers) Research and Development Committee about reading the runes on what might happen to teacher supply. My final slide  predicted the next teacher supply crisis would be in London in September 2014.

Now I may have been premature in the arts and humanities subjects because of the time the economy has taken to recover from the battering it took after the banking crisis of 2008, but the latest evidence seems to suggest that in the STEM subjects I was right to be concerned. An analysis of the two key routes into training that are covered by DfE targets – School Direct and Higher Education/SCITTs suggests that unless there is a late surge in acceptances recruitment to STEM subjects will be down on recent years.

The following table is based upon data collected over the period 2-5th August, i.e. last weekend.

Current acceptances 2013 AUG
COMPARED with the 2012 TARGET SUBJECT

-113

ENGLISH

-844

MATHEMATICS

-146

BIOLOGY/ GEN SCI

-235

CHEMISTRY

-411

PHYSICS INC PHYSICS WITH MATHS

-452

ICT

-465

D&T

-183

MFL

-31

GEOGRAPHY

170

HISTORY

8

ART & DESIGN

-51

MUSIC

79

PE

-127

RE

-29

BUSINESS STUDIES

-65

CITIZENSHIP

130

OTHER

The advent of pre-entry skills test in numeracy and literacy makes it less likely than in previous years that there will be a significant number of last minute entrants. Indeed, it might help matters if the government suspended that requirement for this year while it sorts out the common admission framework for next year. At present, we don’t know how many candidates may be holding more than one place, and we also don’t know the level of ‘no shows’ when courses actually commence.  Of course, these figures will be boosted by those national providers such as the OU that don’t reveal their acceptances as part of the national monitoring arrangements, but that won’t eliminate the shortfall.

So, if the data is anywhere near accurate, schools may have to start looking for alternative sources of mathematics, science and computer studies teachers in 2014, especially in London and the South East where turnover of teachers doubled between 2010 and 2013. As teachers from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA can now teach in England with no further training needed, and as academies and free schools don’t even need to employ qualified teachers – not that any school ever did in a crisis situation – any gaps will be filled somehow. But teacher shortages are likely to make a mockery of the government’s avowed policy of closing the achievement gap between the rich and the poorest in society.

The government will also need to look carefully at the level of bursary support it provides trainees, although it is somewhat prescribed by starting salaries as there is no benefit in trainees having to take a pay cut when they finish their training on top of starting to pay back their tuition fee loans that already reduces their real incomes in many cases.

With a general election in 2015, the government cannot afford the seeds of another teacher supply crisis even if it is based upon an improving overall economy. A world-class education system cannot be built on a teacher supply crisis, and it would be even more ironic if the success of UK schooling for overseas pupils sucked the brightest and best teachers from the domestic State system at the very point where there weren’t enough to go around.

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