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Higher pay only way for science

Warwick Mansell reports on a keynote speech calling for better salaries to attract well-qualified graduate teachers in shortage subjects.

Science and maths teachers must be paid more than their colleagues if drastic recruitment problems in the subjects are ever to be solved, Britain's leading science education conference will be told today.

Supplies of well-qualified graduates will fall dramatically unless ministers do more to address the gap between salaries on offer to them in schools and those paid in industry and the City.

Sir Peter Williams, new president of the Association for Science Education, will make the call for differential pay at the association's annual meeting today, putting renewed pressure on education ministers who appeared to duck the issue last year.

He said: "Unless and until the Government addresses this question of differential pay, we are going to be looking at rapidly diminishing supplies of maths and science teachers with decent qualifications.

"You do not go into teaching to get rich, you do it as a vocation. But you should not then penalise materially and financially people whose dedication leads them into a particular pathway."

Sir Peter, chairman of the Engineering and Technology Board, will acknowledge that the issue of differential pay could present huge difficulties for many schools in terms of the morale of staff in other subjects.

But ministers and headteachers had to be realistic in looking at the alternatives available to maths and science graduates, where pound;40,000 starting salaries in industry or financial services were not unheard of.

Sir Peter would not put a figure on any potential salary differential, but said he was not talking "huge money". He would like to see extra pay linked to a requirement for science and maths teachers to commit themselves to professional development work, including industrial placements.

His call would dovetail with plans being put forward by the ASE for a new chartered science teacher designation (see right).

The call comes a year after the Department for Education and Skills rejected a similar proposal in a report for the Treasury. The report, by Sir Gareth Roberts, president of the Science Council, called for higher pay for teachers of maths, science, computing and design and technology. It stressed that these subjects had far smaller proportions of students entering teacher training with good degrees than others such as history and English. Maths and science recruitment numbers repeatedly missed government targets. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, accepted this in his Comprehensive Spending Review of 2002.

However, last year the DfES, rejected the move, arguing that it was better for schools to make their own decisions about staff salaries. Its pay advisers, the School Teachers' Review Body, also argued that recruitment and retention difficulties were not confined to science and maths.

Numbers of new maths and science trainees have increased in recent years.

In maths, initial teacher training recruit numbers rose from 1,300 in 1999 to 1,960 last year. In science, the corresponding rise was from 2,360 to 2,910.

Numbers have still consistently been below the Government's own recruitment targets over the past 10 years. Sir Peter acknowledged that recruitment to science and maths teacher-training courses had improved in recent years, and that a range of cash incentive schemes to encourage young people into teaching had had an effect.

But he said improved recruitment was partly caused by a slowdown in the financial services sector, and the continuing difficulties of British industry, which had temporarily depressed alternative job prospects for graduates.

Sir Peter's speech will be one of the highlights of the four-day gathering at the University of Reading. The conference features more than 300 workshops and events and is expected to attract more than 4,000 delegates.

A series of "frontier science" lectures covers subjects including climate change, space exploration and the future of the internet.

Workshops include sessions on developing scientific inquiry work in primary pupils, the use of digital media in science teaching and the chemistry of food and teapots.

The subject of how assessment is affecting the teaching of science is also likely to excite controversy at a meeting tomorrow.

Sir Patrick Moore is expected to speak about "science at the cutting edge" today.

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