Anyone would have thought that there was an election soon. Oh there is! Silly me!
Driving into work this morning, having watched yet another bit of “teacher bashing” on breakfast news it occurred to me that I couldn’t imagine anyone doing a similar drive to their own workplace thinking “I know what I need to do: I need to make a complete hash out doing my job”. No one in their right mind sets out to cock things up, yet that is what you would think we do as teachers if you believed everything that you read in the newspapers/twitter/the interweb or listened to on the radio/TV whenever a “newsworthy” story about education comes up.
Cameron announced this week that “maths and science is a teaching priority” and that a considerable amount of money will be spent on retraining us (and Science teachers apparently) over the next five years. Additionally the intention is to recruit an additional 2500 teachers. This did make me wonder when our subjects had become a “non-priority”.
Let’s deal with the first matter about “retraining” us – yes that word was used which implies that in general we haven’t got a “Scooby doo” about how to do our job. What maths and science teachers need is time – in general maths teachers have more “contact time” than most other countries that the government aspires to compare us with. The feeling that I am getting from speaking to people is that they want more time to plan collaboratively and discuss strategies that work when teaching specific topics. They want more time to produce meaningful feedback for students. They want more time to develop their skills as teachers. Basically they want more time. (Think Oliver … “please sir can I have some more?”). They aren’t asking for time to sit and drink coffee but you can guarantee that the one time you grab a coffee and sit and breathe the headteacher will walk in and think you’re having a “jolly”.
I absolutely agree with the second part of Cameron’s announcement, but genuinely believe 2500 still won’t be enough to stop us facing a massive shortage of secondary teachers. Interestingly I came into teaching in the earlier years on the below graph and I have a vivid recollection of “teaching as a career” being very high profile (but then again maybe it’s like when you buy a new car and you see it everywhere!!). Recent statistics show that the total numbers for all subjects recruited to secondary ITT is falling (the report calls the drop a “slight one” .. not sure I’d agree with that word to describe it), yet the number of students “in the funnel” (i.e. primary schools) is on the increase.
Take a look at the statistics (the full report is here ->ITT number census) for ITT recruitment and you will see that maths only filled 88% of its ITT places. Considering the national target was 2495 and this wasn’t reached I struggle to see where the additional trainees are going to come from … now don’t get me started about what would happen if post 16 maths becomes compulsory even for those that achieve a grade C (that is just sooo undeliverable right now!)
As if these figures weren’t worrying enough – I have a concern about these headline figures though as they are based on an extract from 10th November 2014 and so I’m sure that it doesn’t reflect the number of students that actually finish the ITT course – you only need to think about the fall out rate from your own PGCE, which if you are a maths teacher you will know is pretty high (on my course about 30% dropped out).
I genuinely don’t have the answers but to use an analogy from the business world – If you are faced with a budget shortfall, you tackle it in two ways: not only do you cut costs but you also try to generate additional revenue. We need to tackle the teacher shortage not only be recruiting more into the profession but also retaining what we already have. How we do that I don’t know, obviously I have ideas but there is no “cure-all” for the current national situation.
I suppose this chain of thought stems from frustration that the message that teaching maths can be the most rewarding job in the world isn’t always getting through. I really do love my job and feel lucky to do what I do – to finish I’d like to say to everyone on behalf of teachers everywhere that most of us are trying to “be the best that we can be” and for most of us our best is GOOD enough (the state of teachers/teaching is not as bad as the media would have you believe) and so I would urge you not to believe everything you read … obviously that excludes this blog!!