17,500; 1,313; 3,500; 10; what’s the next number in the sequence?

According to the Number 10 website:

17,500 maths and physics teachers will be trained over the next 5 years over and above current levels, with schemes to attract more postgraduates, researchers and career-changers, and extensive retraining for non-specialist teachers.

The scheme will cost £67 million and will include a programme to offer school leavers a bursary to help pay for university, in return for a commitment to become a teacher when they graduate with a maths or physics degree.


That deals with the first and last numbers in the heading. The second number is the shortfall against the Teacher Supply Model number across both mathematics and physics over the past three years. 3,500 is the number required each year above the existing levels to reach 17,500. Perhaps 2,500 more mathematics teachers and a 1,000 extra physics teachers or about double the present training targets for schools. Of course, some of the additional numbers will work in the further education sector and some might be trained as leaders in maths and science in the primary sector. Even so, this looks like a big ask along the same lines as Labour’s famous plan in the late 1990s to expand maths and science teacher numbers using the expertise of a leading supply and recruitment agency. However, perhaps the clue to success lies elsewhere in the press release with the slightly different wording of:

New programmes will retrain 15,000 existing teachers, and recruit up to 2,500 additional specialist maths and physics teachers over the next Parliament, on top of existing plans.

If the government is going to offer new undergraduate bursaries to physics and maths students without increasing the number of degree places specifically for students whose ‘A’ levels fall just short of current entry requirements it might just set up a bidding war between education as a career and the other employers that are seeking such graduates. Expanding the number of degree places is absolutely essential. An alternative would be an apprenticeship model for would be teachers that want to earn a salary from the age of 18 with a degree as part of the package but that would involve using university education departments as well as subject departments and as such might not meet current attitudes to teacher preparation.

The rest of the Prime Minister’s announcement was about computing and technology, including the new GCSE, and the rightful return of coding to the school curriculum. No doubt we have moved on from turtles hurtling around the floor of primary school classrooms to scenes of six year olds flying drones above the school playgrounds to take Arial photographs of the school in its setting with all the programming coded by the pupils. That might need some updating of primary teachers qualifications, but I didn’t see anything about that in the announcement.

I hope we can find ways of improving both maths skills for the millions and physics for the masses, but the muddled nature of this press release not even announced jointly with the DfE doesn’t fill me with any certainty about a successful outcome. Reflecting on Labour’s attempts more than 15 years ago, I fear history may be about to repeat itself.


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