There aren’t enough maths teachers. According to the House of Commons briefing paper in June, Teacher recruitment and retention in England, the government fell 16 per cent short of its target for recruitment of maths teachers; what’s more, 20 per cent of those entering the profession as newly qualified teachers are not working in state schools two years after joining.
In a world of public sector pay freezes, huge policy reform, ever-increasing workloads and shrinking school budgets, it is hardly surprising that teaching is not seen as an attractive career for those leaving university with such a sought-after qualification as maths. And it is hardly surprising that many teachers are choosing to not stick around – the retention issues within the sector have been widely and persistently reported.
With all of this taken into account, the onus on schools is strong to retain the maths teachers they have, as well as to provide high-quality training for both specialist and non-specialist teachers. But even this is not easy: those increasing workloads and shrinking budgets mean teachers struggle to find time for development and schools struggle to finance release time for CPD, never mind the cost of courses.
It is up to departments and schools to find creative solutions to keep maths teachers in the job and make sure everyone teaching maths is well trained. But how do you do it?
In my department and school, I tackle this in a number of ways.
1. Share practice
The first step is to ensure that all of the time we get to spend together as a department is dedicated to ways of making maths teaching and learning better.
Members of the department will be encouraged to showcase things they have seen elsewhere or used in lessons, and I will often feed in prompts I’ve taken from research I’ve read, or an idea I’ve had about a way of teaching a concept. There is always plenty of discussion and always something to take away.
I like to think that this approach has an effect not only on good practice in my classrooms, but also on the morale of my staff and their engagement with the profession. It is well documented that those who remain engaged with the profession are less likely to consider leaving, whereas disengaged teachers are more likely to consider leaving.
2. Offer CPD opportunities
I also try to give staff as many opportunities as possible to access external input.
We benefit from ongoing CPD delivered by the Further Mathematics Support Programme (FMSP), a local National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM)-accredited personal development provider and our local Maths Hub. Much of this is, at least in part, funded – particularly the FMSP and Maths Hub opportunities – and it is rare that one of my staff is not involved in one of them.
In the past year, members of the department have been involved with the Increasing Competence and Confidence in Algebra and Multiplicative Structures project (iccams-maths.org), two separate FMSP courses, the NCETM secondary Professional Development Lead accreditation, and our NQT has also been part of the local development network, consisting of five afternoons of input on maths teaching.
Wherever necessary, I have supported these activities from the departmental budget, while paying for attendance at weekend events, such as the excellent Complete Mathematics conference by La Salle Education.
In addition, we have three non-specialist teachers working in the department and each of these has had access to subject-enhancement training.
Supporting the aspirations and professional learning of my team through such investment is crucial to ensure that they feel like valued and respected members of the profession.
3. Take time out to relax
We have a relaxed professional atmosphere in the department. When there is a need to mark end-of-year tests or mock exams, we will often sit together in a “marking party”, and we’re regularly in and out of each other’s classrooms. A dartboard has been set up in the departmental office and we’ll often just throw a few or get together for a proper game of 301. Recently, while Year 11 were in exams, a few of us sat for a game of cards – I support this kind of use of time because I know that my team work hard when they need to, but also need time to refresh and revitalise.
4. Be flexible and understanding
If one of my staff is free at the end of the day and has a personal matter to take care of, I will quite happily let them leave early. With monitoring and evaluation, I take a light-touch approach. Most of it is done by dropping into lessons. Or there’s the occasional practice-sharing session to which we all bring examples of how we use the department-feedback systems, so that others can see if a tweak to practice could bring a benefit. This approach allows me to check everything I need to check while not burdening my team with onerous work scrutiny or observation paperwork. With workload and accountability cited as key issues driving people out of the profession, I think this approach is one the best ways to encourage people to stay in the job.
Even after taking these steps, two members of my department are moving on this year. Both are staying within teaching and are moving on for personal rather than professional reasons, but nonetheless things will change. I know next year I will need to be flexible, to adapt my approaches and the way my team works to accommodate the two new members.
I will conduct interviews with those leaving to find out what they value, as well as anything they feel could be improved. This will, in part, inform how we move forward. My new team will need to grow together and find its own way of working; having the patience to allow this to happen, and the wisdom to know when to intervene and support this process or leave well enough alone, will be a next year’s big challenge.
Peter Mattock is director of maths and numeracy at Brockington College in Leicestershire. He tweets @MrMattock