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'Crunch' warning in maths and science

Science and maths teaching will face "a crunch" in the next two to three years, a parliamentary independent research unit warned this week, writes Diane Spencer.

Michael Norton, director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, said schools were facing the "double whammy" of an ageing population of specialist teachers and the weakening of an already poor supply. In the unit's report on teaching maths and science, he says: "There will be substantial difficulty in remedying current shortages of qualified science and maths teachers in England, let alone meeting the rapidly growing demand in the next decade."

There were two particular challenges for science and maths teaching, he said. Many people regarded the subjects as not essential grounding for life in a technologically-advanced nation. And policymakers found it hard to appreciate the increasingly complex challenge of teaching subjects in which the pace of change was so great.

The report suggests that teachers' status and pay might be raised; differential rates could be paid for some subjects or pupils' age levels to reflect the differences in challenge and difficulty; the case for a General Teaching Council to institutionalise professional development should be considered; financial encouragement might be given to graduates to take PGCEs in shortage subjects.

Dr Norton said there might be more scope for engaging university science departments to encourage teachers to become more competent in the classroom and to stimulate interest in keeping up with the latest knowledge.

POST was set up four years ago to provide a central, objective service to both the Lords and the Commons on science and technology issues. It is managed by a board of MPs and peers.

Teaching Science and Maths, technical report No 88, POST, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA, Pounds 3.

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