Scaremongering!

So now I know I am officially a scaremonger. A DfE spokesperson, helpfully anonymous, is quoted by the Daily Mail today as saying of my delving into the current teacher training position that there was no teacher shortage, adding: ‘This is scaremongering and based on incomplete evidence.’

Well the first thing to note is that I haven’t said that there is a teacher shortage, just that training places are not being filled: not the same thing. Indeed, I have said a teacher shortage is less likely than in the past in the near future because Mr Gove has mandated that qualified teachers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the whole of the USA can teach here as qualified teachers with no need to retrain. With an oversupply of teachers in parts of both Canada and Australia that should prevent any short-term problem developing even though another part of the government isn’t very keen on importing workers from abroad, presumably including from within the Commonwealth and a one time colony.

More serious is the charge of using ‘incomplete evidence’ in reaching my conclusions. If the DfE has figures to show that more places will be filled this September on teacher training courses than I am predicting, then please will they share them with the wider community, if not, will they please justify what they mean.

It could be that they take issue with my colleague Chris Waterman’s assessment of the number of those likely to be taught Mathematics by unqualified teachers. However, it is worth noting that earlier this year the DfE produced its own evidence to show that 17.9% of the Mathematics hours taught to years 7-13 were led by those with ‘no relevant post A Level qualification’. That was some 85,000 hours of instruction. Assuming each class of pupils has six hours of contact per week that makes more than 14,000 classes already being taught by unqualified staff, and with no programme in place to improve their qualifications if they are intending to teach the subject for a period of time. If each class has only 20 pupils, the total number of pupils already being taught by teachers with no measurable post A Level qualification in Mathematics can easily be worked out. It is also worth pointing out that the DfE showed that in November 2012 less than half of those teaching Mathematics had a degree that could be classified as a Mathematics degree, with 23% having a PGCE as their highest Mathematics qualification and a degree in another subject, hopefully with lots of applied mathematics as a apart of the degree.

As Chris Waterman has rightly pointed out the raising of the participation age to 17 this September and 18 a year later should increase the demand for Mathematics teachers as the Wolf Report endorsed the now widely held view that more youngsters should continue to study Mathematics until the age of18.

The government has taken a bold gamble with teacher education: moving training to schools; introducing pre-entry tests in literacy and numeracy; raising the cost of training in many subjects to £9,000 for fees plus living costs. It is important that there is a credible debate about how these changes are working.

After all, in 2010, Mr Gove promised 200 teachers of Mandarin would be trained each year, and although some providers such as the London Institute offer it as an option I doubt that target was ever reached. It is time for a radical overhaul of teacher preparation to really meet the needs of a 21st century education system.

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One thought on “Scaremongering!

  1. There are several issues here.
    1. The accusation of scaremongering. I think this has been addressed above, but it seems to me like a knee-jerk defensive reaction. Another response might have been to say thanks for this information and we’ll look into it.
    2. The (perceived/actual) shortage of qualified maths and science teachers. This is not a new problem, as pointed out in a number of recent reports related to maths and STEM generally in the UK.
    3. The challenges of providing teachers for changing school numbers. This year many young people are staying on for an extra year in compulsory school or college. The ‘participation’ age will then be raised to 18. Related to this is the proposal to make maths compulsory to 18. Where are all the maths teachers going to come from? There is also a concern about changes to the ICT curriculum, and the need to teach programming within a ‘computing’ curriculum. Where will all the computing teachers come from? Finally it seems that we have a crisis at the other end of schools. Suddenly we have realised that there was a baby boom four years ago ….
    3. The big changes in initial teacher education. Has the government been transparent about the evidence on which these bold policy changes were based? How do we know they will work in terms of a) recruitment b) policy and c) coherence? As John says above, it is important that we understand how these changes are working. It may also be important to retain some of the old ways of doing teacher education in case we discover that the new ways are not working very well.

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