Science teachers should be paid slightly more early in their careers to help tackle the recruitment and retention crisis in the subject, a new report recommends.
It is among eight “straightforward interventions” that the Gatsby Foundation charity says secondary schools can use to improve the supply of high-quality science teachers.
The report, written by Sam Sims of the UCL Institute of Education, also highlights the importance of giving science teachers professional autonomy.
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The eight recommendations are:
- Increase specialisation: Teaching multiple subjects increases a teacher’s workload, and means they are teaching at least one subject outside of their degree specialism. The report says: “Teachers improve as they accumulate experience in a specific area and specialisation enables them to do this faster. Research shows that this makes teachers more effective, improving pupil attainment.”
- Provide stable teaching assignments: The report recommends teachers focusing on specific key stages or types of pupils, which is says will reduce workload as they can reteach lessons. It adds: “Specialisation by year group also allows teachers to gain experience teaching specific content more quickly. This helps teachers become more effective.”
- Give new science teachers access to your best science teachers: The report says a fifth of a teacher’s skills can be explained by the quality of the teachers they have worked with in the past. It adds: “The more a teacher seeks advice from a colleague, and the more effective that particular colleague is at their job, the more the teacher will learn.”
- Provide science-specific professional development: The report says CPD that increases science teachers’ subject knowledge, as well as their pedagogical skills, has been shown to improve retention. It adds that this is “most likely due to the increased efficacy and job satisfaction among participating science teachers”.
- Provide instructional coaching: The report says this “involves an expert teacher working with another teacher in an individualised, classroom-based, observation-feedback-practice cycle. Crucially, instructional coaching involves revisiting the same specific skills several times, with focused, bite-sized bits of feedback specifying not just what but how the teacher needs to improve during each cycle.”
- Flatten the pay gradient: The report says younger teachers’ decisions to stay at their current school are much more sensitive to their pay than that of more experienced teachers. It adds: “Paying early-career science teachers slightly more money has been shown to increase retention in their current school and in the teaching profession overall.”
- Set salaries with regard to outside earnings potential: The report notes that graduates with science degrees tend to earn more outside teaching than inside it, while the reverse is true for people with arts and humanities degrees. It says early-career teachers and Stem graduates are “particularly sensitive to this outside pay ratio”.
- Provide autonomy-supportive leadership: The report says low levels of autonomy are “associated with increased risk that teachers leave”. It says school leadership styles characterised by monitoring teacher performance, such as collecting lots of performance data, are associated with an increased desire to leave.