4,000 too few: gravity of physics teacher shortfall

8th October 2010 at 01:00
England's schools have a shortfall of more than 4,000 specialist physics teachers, new research has found.

The study, commissioned by the Institute of Physics (IOP), claims that every headteacher should be forced to recruit physics graduates in order to tackle the scarcity.

It also says only half the number needed are being trained each year.

Almost 30,000 science teachers work in English schools, according to the official statistics. The organisation has launched a campaign for a third of them to hold a qualification in physics. At present, only about 5,800 do so.

Research by the Royal Society in 2007 suggested that 500 secondaries did not have a teachers with a physics degree.

This September, 590 people have begun specialist physics teacher training courses. But the IOP's research suggests that 1,000 a year are needed to keep up with demand and to reverse the impact of the "hemorrhaging" of physics specialists leaving the profession.

The institute is also calling for physics teacher training courses to be expanded and for better marketing among physics graduates to encourage them to join the profession.

But it admits this will be a struggle: only about 3,000 people graduate with a physics degree each year and they are wooed by higher-paying industries.

IOP director of education and science Peter Main said: "Some schools don't even bother trying to recruit physicists. This means there is less enthusiasm for the subject in schools and there are holes in physics knowledge in science departments."

A quarter of physics graduates end up teaching maths, and the institute is calling for schools to consider better links between the subjects so that staff can teach both.

IOP teacher support manager Chris Shepherd said: "Students (need) to be taught physics by an unbroken succession of specialists. It's this that enhances their chances of success.

"We have become used to what is a shocking situation. But with better marketing of all routes into teaching, a number of teacher-training "supercentres" could easily be established to reach parity with biology."

Luke Graham, head of recruitment strategy at the Training and Development Agency for Schools, said: "Recruiting the best physics graduates is a priority for us. We have established a very successful course with up to 300 places to give people with related degrees the subject knowledge they need.

"We are also making teacher training more flexible. There are now a number of routes for physics applicants, who can train to be physics teachers also qualified to teach either maths or science."

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