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Physics lacks pulling power

Three out of seven universities due to run a course designed to boost the supply of physics teachers have had to postpone the scheme through lack of demand.

The Training and Development Agency for Schools launched the course this month, along with a similar one for maths, following a two-year pilot.

Students are given a bursary worth pound;150 a week, amounting to up to Pounds 4,000 over six months.

Research by Professor Alan Smithers revealed in November that only 38 per cent of those teaching physics in schools and colleges were specialists.

Students selected for the "physics enhancement course" have six months to mug up on the subject knowledge needed to teach 11 to 18-year-olds in secondary schools. They do not need a physics degree, or even an A-level, but they must have some work-related experience of physics, for example in engineering, and a place on a teacher-training course.

Hazel Healey, course director at Keele university in Staffordshire, said she was concerned that only 14 of the university's 20 places had been filled. "We need the general public to be aware of these courses. At the moment we are telling them to become science teachers, but not explaining how."

Ms Healey said her students had degrees in a wide range of subjects including ceramics, agriculture, psychology, computing, biology and business studies.

She said that the course was far from being "dry and dusty" and included trips to air force bases, special effects departments in theatres and Leicester university space research centre.

The three other institutions running the course are the University of East London, St Martin's college in Lancaster, and a consortium led by Bradford college.

The three not offering the course until next year at the earliest are Loughborough university, the University of Sussex and Bath Spa university.

A spokeswoman for the TDA said: "There are probably quite complex reasons why the three universities did not pull in enough people for this year, but they are hoping to next year."

She said 60 students were currently on physics enhancement courses across the country, compared to 221 for maths and 27 for chemistry, still in its pilot stage.

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