Even assuming the first entrants into David Cameron’s new maths scholarship programme that he announced today start their degrees this September, they won’t be available to teach until either September 2018 if they are allowed on TeachFirst or 2019 if they follow a traditional one-year teacher preparation programme.
Even though we might need more maths teachers by then, especially if the next government goes for a requirement that all 16-18 year olds study a maths course of some description, it is still a curious choice of subject to highlight for extra support. At present, mathematics isn’t anywhere near the worst subject in terms of teacher supply. Indeed, in TeachVac it probably won’t be flagged as an amber warning subject until today. That’s well behind, business studies, IT, design and technology, geography, English and social studies; all subjects where we have been warning schools of shortages in 2015 for some time now. See www.teachvac.co.uk for more details.
As the government is also in the process of re-training other teachers to become maths specialists it isn’t clear why there is this focus only on mathematics. There is even a risk that if it forces some physics teachers to have to teach other sciences rather than maths alongside physics it could have a negative effect on recruitment into physics. If the government intends to introduce a compulsory course in English for 16-18 year olds then monitoring teacher numbers in that subject is equally vital to monitoring maths teacher numbers as shortages of teachers of English may be as severe in some parts of the country as they are for maths teachers.
Teacher supply will be the number one crisis facing whoever is Secretary of State after the election and a piecemeal approach to the problem may attract headlines but won’t produce enough teachers in every subject to allow schools to make progress on the Attainment8 measure.
In two weeks we will see the current recruitment figures for trainees for graduate courses starting in September. They will be the last numbers likely to feed into the general election debate. If they remain poor, as seems likely, teacher supply may be the only issue in education to make waves during the campaign despite the many other policies that need discussion.