Where are the physics teachers? We are a fantastic state school on the fringes of North London. England's schools inspectorate Ofsted has consistently rated us good with many outstanding features. Until the UK government removed the specialist schools budget, we were a science and a performing arts specialist school. We have strong links with local businesses, schools and universities and our science department is extremely popular.
For the past five years we have had three excellent physics teachers with, would you believe it, actual physics degrees. Our student numbers have consistently risen: five years ago, we had 12 students aged 16-18 and now we have more than 70. Despite numbers being very similar for biology and chemistry those departments both have six specialist teachers. As we all know, there are more of these teachers available.
One of our physics teachers is leaving, which presents a fantastic opportunity to get someone new in to spruce up the department and make life here even more exciting for the students. Alas, our advertisements for a new physics teacher have received few applicants, all of them sub-standard. We are a perfect example of what physics education can be like if there is consistent high-quality teaching; student numbers rising and top exam results. Yet many schools find themselves without any specialist physics teachers.
What can we do? The Institute of Physics offers #163;20,000 training scholarships to graduates to become physics teachers. Physics is considered one of the top-priority subjects by the government, meaning that graduates receive bursaries simply to train. Subject knowledge enhancement courses are also on offer for non-specialists to retrain as physics teachers.
An Institute of Physics report suggests that half of all new physics teachers leave the profession within four and a half years. And according to a report from the thinktank Social Market Foundation there is a shortfall of 40,000 science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates. Who could blame them for not going into teaching when there are so many opportunities for physics graduates in other sectors such as finance and computing?
We, among many others, need physics teachers. Are you prepared to join us?
Drew Thomson and Gordon Gentry, Head of physics and deputy headmaster, Rickmansworth School, Hertfordshire.