Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Shortage of Mathematics Teachers

Recent press reports have highlighted concern about insufficient mathematics graduates being recruited into the teaching profession. The Times headline invited us to be horrified that many maths classes in secondary schools in this country are being taught by PE teachers!

My immediate reaction was: so, what's new? My second reaction was that this seemed to suggest that PE teachers must be quite incapable of teaching anything other than forward rolls and cartwheels. I am a mathematics graduate, but I am also a teacher. In my time I have on occasions taught music, RE, Games (cricket/hockey) and science at secondary school level, and just about everything at primary level. So, in principle I can't be horrified at the thought of PE teachers filling in some gaps in the mathematics lessons timetable!

The key question, of course, is, why are there not more mathematics graduates going into teaching? Of course, with a good maths degree there are more lucrative professions than teaching available to a new graduate. Early on in my career I was very nearly recruited by a major computing company; but at the last stage I declined their offer of a very well-paid job. My reasons were simply that I loved teaching, that I looked forward to going to work every day, that helping youngsters learn with understanding and enjoyment gave me great satisfaction, and that I really felt that I was making a difference.

Teaching was a respected profession and I felt privileged to be part of it. In my view this is what has changed. Our press and our politicians are constantly running down the profession and undermining the morale of teachers. Government ministers interfere in educational practice at a level of detail that is intolerable. For example who decides what proportion of marks in the end-of-KS2 mathematics tests should be awarded for the context-free written calculation papers? Not teachers! Not mathematics educators. Not any professional body with expertise in the field. No, a government minister decides and imposes their decision on the testing agency. And how much attention was given to the view of the profession in the consultation over the National Curriculum? (That's a rhetorical question!)

If we want to recruit more able graduates in mathematics – and other subject areas where the financial rewards elsewhere are much more attractive than that of a career in education – then a major priority is to restore the professionalism of teachers; to make teaching a profession which is respected; to trust teachers and to recognise their professional judgement. Teachers need professional conditions of employment, with the expectation for properly-funded professional development opportunities throughout their career. Educational policy related to the practice of teaching and children's learning must be informed first and foremost by the profession itself. Teaching should be a profession that bright young people will be proud to be part of.

Now, back to the real-life mathematics problem I set in my previous posting. I was charged £10.99 for the lawn feed, which with my 10% membership discount (£1.10) came to £9.89. But the lawn feed should have been sold at 80% of £10.99, namely £8.79, which with my membership discount would have cost me £7.91. So, the refund should have been £9.89 – £7.91, which is £1.98. I was cheated. The garden centre should have given me a refund of £1.98, but they gave me a refund of only £1.10. They owe me 88p. Next time I go I might consider stealing a daffodil bulb.

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