GCSE maths: ‘Radical reform’ of teacher training needed

To improve the quality of post-16 maths education, teacher supply, initial training and career-long CPD need to be urgently improved, says new research

Kate Parker

GCSE maths: 'Radical reform of teacher training needed'

The training and development of GCSE maths teachers in further education colleges needs a radical overhaul, according to a new report exclusively shared with Tes

The report, entitled Mathematics in Further Education Colleges and published today by the University of Nottingham and the Nuffield Foundation, says that in order to improve the quality of post-16 maths education, teacher supply, initial training and career-long CPD need to be urgently improved, as does leadership development. 

The research, which took place over three years with more than 230 interviews with staff and 380 students, revealed the challenges around staffing levels in maths.

In 2017-18, 15 per cent of those teaching post-16 maths were expecting to have moved out of the subject by 2020-21, and more than a fifth were undecided about their future plans. 

The report says the workforce is under increasing pressure to produce better results owing to the condition of funding attached to GCSE resit students – and that colleges had reported that staff levels were unsustainable.

It calls on the sector to “establish a more holistic understanding of the systemic reasons for students’ low achievement” – and said that it could help to relieve some of the pressure on teachers and inform professional development to produce a more sustainable mathematics teacher workforce. 

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Diane Dalby, senior research fellow at the University of Nottingham and co-author of the report, said: "There’s a rich diversity of expertise among FE maths teachers but we’re asking them to do a tough job and they need better support. Training and professional development strategies need a major overhaul so there is equitable access to high-quality support that meets the needs of FE maths teachers from different backgrounds. 

"Effective cross-college leadership and management for maths in FE colleges is vital and access to high-quality bespoke professional development for those in such positions is long overdue."

Initial training and professional development

The report says that the professional development of the FE maths workforce was “a pressing concern” and that few FE mathematics teachers had undertaken full-time pre-service training. The authors call for a “sector agreement on appropriate professional standards” for mathematics teachers in the FE sector to be established. 

The report also highlights the 2018 national workforce survey which identified three main entry routes into teaching maths at FE – 24 per cent of teachers came from the industry, 19 per cent came from another area of the curriculum in FE and 23 per cent came from teaching elsewhere in the education sector. 

The report calls for a review into the initial training for teaching maths in FE, and for a new national training strategy to be developed that distinguishes between the needs of teachers who are undergoing a significant career change, a change of curriculum focus or a change of educational context. 

It also says that a “national recruitment campaign to attract career changers from diverse backgrounds should be designed and launched with some urgency” and that as well as designated funding ring-fenced for professional development, an individual entitlement to “mathematics-specific continuing professional development should be defined and adopted nationally”. 

Andrew Noyes, co-author of the report and a professor of education at the University of Nottingham, said that there is a "unique opportunity to recruit high-quality career changers with vocationally relevant expertise into the FE teacher workforce".

He said: "However, they will need particular kinds of transition training. Similarly, retraining is needed for those moving from school teaching. More generally, the increased focus on mathematics post-16 is crying out for a consistent approach to teacher training, professional standards and the ongoing development of the teacher workforce in ways that are appropriate for FE colleges.

"The mathematics teachers in our FE colleges encounter particular challenges with student engagement and in overturning layered experiences of failure and anxiety. This requires considerable skill, as does making the mathematics learning relevant to vocational learning. Sustained investment in CPD is needed if this workforce is to play a key role is reducing the quantitative skills gap."

Leadership training

The report suggests that a national programme of leadership training should be developed aimed at those who are in cross-college maths leadership programmes and that a self-evaluation toolkit and support package should be designed to help college managers in reviewing their organisational strategies and developing improvement plans appropriate to their local context.

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a schools and colleges content producer.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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