Creative thinking needed on teacher supply issues

Vince Cable apparently wants degree-level apprenticeships to become the ‘new norm’ according to recent a headline in the Independent newspaper. As a result, it appears he was thinking about earmarking an extra £20 million to support degree-level and postgraduate apprenticeships in subjects like engineering and construction. Perhaps, he should start nearer home by discussing with his Education counterparts a government sponsored apprenticeships scheme for teacher training. Although to some it might look like the re-invention of the pupil- teacher scheme of yesteryear, could such apprenticeships encourage bright school and college leavers into training as a teacher, and be a part of the solution to the looming teacher supply crisis in our schools.

Take a pupil studying physics who may not achieve an A* or A grade at A level, but is interested in continuing in the subject. At present, unless he, and sadly it is still mostly young men, can find a place on a physics degree course he cannot continue with the subject except perhaps as part of another degree. Is it worth exploring whether by creating a degree level apprenticeship in physics, teaching with a salary attached, we might encourage some of these young people to develop their expertise in the subject and become a teacher without the need for schools being required to compete in the graduate labour market. The apprenticeship can be just as rigorous as a degree, and must leave time for reflection and the other essentials of a successful university education, but might do away with some of the less useful rites of passage of a university education. In addition, it might include a period working in a successful school system overseas, such as say Singapore or Shanghai – today’s government favourite – that would allow the graduate-level apprentices to judge how well students do in their education in other countries.

These apprenticeships could be managed either by the new University Technical Colleges or by training schools already involved in School Direct. With a four year course, starting at eighteen, the new teachers could be awarded a degree after converting their apprenticeship with a final summative module, thus avoiding the need for the payment of tuition fees. The university elements of the course, such as additional subject knowledge, could be bought by the scheme’s providers at cost like any other business buying professional development services.

Without this sort of creative thinking it is unlikely that we will be able to provide sufficient new teachers to meet the demands of the growing school population well into the next decade. There are other schemes, such as the ‘Keep in Touch’ programme for those that leave the profession that might merit revisiting as well as re-training for arts and PE teachers unable to find work at present due to an ‘over-supply’ in these subjects. This might then allow for Qualified Teacher Status to be refined so as not to continue as a qualification that allows any teacher to teach any subject.


Better Maths for the Millions: well that’s the aim

Schools have four weeks to express an interest in becoming a Mathematics Hub. The aim of providing professional development through some 30 hubs that in the first instance will both host the visiting teachers from Shanghai and identify those teachers from schools across England that will be offered a visit to China’s booming port city is a laudable idea. However, 30 hubs for even 20,000 schools means that, on average, each hub will have more than 600 schools that could associate with it. Put it another way, if there are 4 hubs in each of London, the North West, South East and Yorkshire & the Humber Regions, and three in all other regions except the North East, where there might be just two, you get an idea of how thinly spread the resources will be.

The long list of tasks the Hubs are eventually going to have to manage includes supporting wider partnerships on:

  • leading on national innovation projects such as the Shanghai Teacher Exchange Programme

•     recruitment of maths specialists into teaching;

•     initial training of maths teachers and supporting existing teachers of other subjects wanting

to change to maths teaching;

•     co-ordinating and delivering a wide range of maths continuing professional development

(CPD) and school-to-school support;

•     ensuring maths leadership is developed, for example by coordinating programmes for aspiring        and new heads of maths departments;

•     helping maths enrichment programmes to reach a large number of pupils from primary school onwards.

Interestingly, the development of Subject Knowledge Courses for would-be mathematics teachers is not specifically mentioned in the list, but would no doubt be just as important as helping existing teachers of other subjects convert to become competent maths teachers.

On the basis that you have to invest to achieve progress, the Hubs will no doubt initially take some of the scare maths teachers away from classrooms and department leadership to run the programmes. I worry that the initiative is too secondary orientated when what may be required is a national scheme for upgrading the maths capability of primary school teachers. If they can gain confidence is delivering the subject, then a higher proportion of pupils will achieve the expected level at Key Stage 2, and maths teaching in secondary schools will be more interesting for more teachers. It is not enrichment after primary school that is needed as much as the ability of pupils to achieve their full potential before they move on to secondary schools.

I hope that while the DfE has opened the scheme to ‘expressions of interest’ there will be attempts to ensure national coverage rather than leaving schools in some parts of England devoid of any support. Market-based schemes may have their place, but ensuring national coverage must take precedence over other factors. I am also not sure whether a programme developing maths leader solely alongside other maths teachers is a good idea. Personally, I think groups of teachers from different subjects undertaking leadership development together is a better model, and helps those eventually going forward to senior leadership to start to understand whole school issues as well as those relating to their own subject. No doubt the National College has a view on middle leadership development but, despite having been taken into the DfE, they don’t seem to rate a mention in this document. Hopefully, that is only a temporary oversight in the rush to produce a programme to coincide with the Minister’s visit to Shanghai.

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.