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One solution to the shortage problem

University sets up course for teachers to learn how to teach A-level maths. Warwick Mansell reports

Maths teachers who lack a degree in the subject are being targeted for a new course designed to enable them to take A-level classes.

The pound;300,000 scheme is aimed at the thousands of staff, from PE teachers to biology and geography specialists, who have taught maths to GCSE level because schools cannot find specialists.

Official estimates suggest one in four secondary maths teachers does not have qualifications in the subject beyond A-level. Many schools will let them take GCSE classes but most are extremely reluctant to allow them to teach in the sixth form.

Now the "Teaching advanced mathematics" project is attempting to address this problem. Essentially a distance-learning course, it will last just over a year and lead to a postgraduate award in A-level mathematics pedagogy.

Teachers will have on-line access to maths course material set at A-level and, in some areas, at degree level. Seven workshop days have also been organised at Warwick university.

The course, which will start in June and costs pound;150, has been set up by the university and Mathematics in Education and Industry, a curriculum development body, with funding from the charitable Gatsby Foundation.

It was highlighted as one possible response to teacher shortages in last month's Smith report on the crisis facing the subject.

Adrian Simpson, a senior lecturer at Warwick and one of the course leaders, said that the course would give more options to staff, such as the PE teacher who had been asked to take key stage 3 maths lessons and turned out to like the subject.

He denied that A-level teachers arriving through this route would be worse than maths graduates.

He said: "We are not putting underqualified teachers in schools. We are taking people who are already out there and are already probably good teachers and helping them to deepen their maths knowledge."

The number of maths recruits to initial teacher training has been growing steadily since 1999. However, these totals have still fallen consistently short of government targets, and schools are having to be more inventive in their search for teachers at all levels.

The Smith report said that this initiative and other small-scale projects should be expanded if they proved successful.

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