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Short route to plug gaps

The huge rise in non-specialist maths teachers has prompted on-the-job training. Julie Henry reports

THE number of maths teachers for younger secondary pupils who have no qualification in their subject has more than quadrupled in three years.

Three years ago, according to the Open University Centre for Mathematics Education, about one in 10 secondary school maths teachers had no subject qualifications beyond A-level. Most of the non-specialists were teaching 11 to 14-year-olds.

Now as many as 45 per cent of the staff teaching the subject to 11 to 14-year-olds have limited knowledge of maths and little or no training.

The shortage is revealed as the first years of secondary school come under the spotlight with the overhaul of English and maths lessons and new targets for 14-year-olds. By 2004, 75 per cent of 14- year-olds should reach the expected level in English, maths and information technology, and 70 per cent in science.

The lack of specialists could pose a threat to the success of the Government's KS3 maths strategy which rolls out in September. KS3 strategy director Anita Straker has admitted that "staffing difficulties could be a constraint in some schools".

The Open University is now developing two new courses for KS3 maths teachers, funded by a pound;93,000 grant from the Esme Fairbairn Foundation.

Barbara Allen, centre director, said: "Retention and recruitment problems have led to many schools having to use non-specialist staff to teach maths at KS3. Many teachers of maths are in the invidious position of having to teach a subject in which they have limited subject knowledge and little or no training.

"Less than 10 per cent of A-levels taken are in maths, prompting concerns about shortfalls in filling teacher vacancies in the future," she added.

A supported open learning course is being developed as well as a residential summer school. A pilot for the former will be held next summer, and the courses will then be offered formally from 2003.

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