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Chemistry data short on substance

May I correct an impression given in The TES (February 16) that there is a healthy situation regarding the qualifications of staff teaching chemistry in UK secondaries.

The published table of 20 subjects headed "Who's qualified to teach their subject" is topped by chemistry, with figures suggesting that 72 per cent of those teaching the subject have a degree in chemistry. The implication is that chemistry and pupils are well-served. Unfortunately, the opposite is true: many of those now teaching the subject are not properly qualified and many more qualified teachers are needed.

The misunderstanding seems to be rooted in the government statistics used as the source of the TES table. The table from which these figures are drawn is five years old and is flawed with respect to figures regarding the qualifications of science teachers. It lists chemistry with the figure of 72 per cent, but a related footnote, easily overlooked, explains: "Teachers qualified in combinedgeneral science are treated as qualified to teach biology, chemistry or physics."

Other recent data from 2006 stated that only 25 per cent of secondary science teachers could be described as chemistry specialists. This goes to the heart of the Royal Society of Chemistry's position on teacher qualification. We assert that too many people teaching chemistry do not have a qualification in the subject itself, and we are striving to get more fully qualified teachers into the system while in the interim training non-chemistry specialists to upgrade their skills to be able to teach the subject effectively.

One question the RSC would be very keen to see answered is: what proportion of secondary science lessons (KS4 and above) - specifically the chemistry components - is taught by chemistry specialists?

Anyone seeking the real picture on chemistry qualifications and numbers is welcome to speak to us. We will be pleased to provide the facts, which do not make comfortable reading but are at least a real reflection of the problem that young people and the country will face as long as this situation remains unresolved.

* www.rsc.org

Dr Richard Pike, Chief Executive, Royal Society of Chemistry, London W1

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