Shanghaied but not qualified: the fate of too many maths teachers?

In their recent evidence to the School Teachers’ Review body (STRB) the government admitted that it would need an extra 5,000 or so qualified mathematics teachers for every child in a secondary school to be taught be a ‘specialist’ mathematics teacher as defined by the Department for Education. It will, therefore, be interesting to see whether the ministerial led delegation going to Shanghai to study maths teaching asks the question how many of the teachers in Shanghai are fully qualified?

With nearly one in six teachers not fully qualified in England, what gain in the OECD’s PISA tests could be achieved just by improving the quality of the teaching even to the standard where the percentage of pupils achieving the expected progress between Key Stages 2 and 4 reached the same level as for English as a subject. Of course, if the government delegation comes back clambering for more hours of mathematics teaching to match the 138 hours of teaching common across much of South East Asia, then each class will need an extra 20-22 hours of teaching per week; and that will need yet more mathematics teachers. Add in an increase required for post-16 maths teaching if all students had to study maths to eighteen and the number of extra teachers required rises still further.

On the back of this demand, the 30 schools funded to act as mathematics hubs looks like small beer given the size of the problem. The ratio is something like 100 secondary schools and 600 primary schools per hub. At that rate any individual teacher might have as much chance of attending a hub as a flood victim had of seeing the army arriving bearing a supply of sandbags. In the 1970s, almost all of the 150 or so local authorities had a dedicated professional development centre with trained maths staff, including advisers and advisory teachers. The dismantling of this infrastructure by successive governments no doubt ensured the quality of maths teaching would suffer, as it probably did in other subjects as well. If not, why are the hubs being established?

If the delegation returns from Shanghai with the message that improving maths teaching is more important that establishing free schools and wasting money on brokers trying to persuade primary schools to become an academy it will have been taxpayers money well spent.

Tackling the primary sector teaching of maths to children of all abilities is an even more challenging task than dealing with the teaching of maths in secondary schools, and I doubt whether the hub secondary schools will have the necessary expertise to tackle the challenge. However, the teaching of maths in the primary sector is part of a much larger issue in relation to how teachers for that sector are prepared.

Overall, it would help parents to know who was teaching their offspring if Qualified Teacher Status was not a universal qualification, but was limited to those subjects and phases where a teacher had been appropriately prepared. But, since the Secretary of State doesn’t believe preparation is necessary for teaching there is little chance of that happening this side of the general election.

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