Gove warned: 'Physics target cannot be met'

25th February 2011 at 00:00
Too few graduates to fill extra places, experts say

Ambitious Government plans to almost double the number of graduates training to be physics teachers are "ill advised" and destined to fail, ministers have been warned.

Targets to recruit almost 1,000 specialists in physics each year will not be met, leaving English schools with a shortage of teachers, according to universities, the Association for Science Education and the Institute of Physics (IoP).

Department for Education officials have unexpectedly increased the number of training places available in physics, leaving university tutors just seven months to recruit the extra graduates.

Currently, teacher trainees in the subject total 518. From September, education secretary Michael Gove wants this to rise to 925. England produces only about 2,000 physics graduates each year.

Mr Gove also wants 1,070 chemistry teacher trainees, almost a third of the 3,300 graduates. This year there are 877 chemistry trainees.

Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) officials are now working to find the extra teachers. There will be more university recruitment events run alongside the IoP, and there is a drive to encourage engineering and maths graduates to teach the subject.

But Chris Husbands, director of the London University's Institute of Education and TDA board member, said: "This target simply cannot be met. The Department for Education is cutting off its nose to spite its face and I think it's rather ill advised.

"We need to train science teachers, not leave places unfilled, or there will be a structural shortage. We can make sure they have subject training in physics and this is a good solution for non A-level teaching. I think something will have to be done because this target can't be met; something has to happen before it goes too far."

This is the first year a Government has set subject-specific recruitment targets for science. In previous years there was only an overall target that could be met with a combination of physics, chemistry and biology specialists.

The target of almost 1,000 new physics teachers was first suggested by the IoP last year. Members have become increasingly concerned by the number of non-specialists teaching physics and have found 500 English schools are without a physics graduate.

Professor Peter Main, director of education and science at the IoP, said it's "absolutely clear" that the teacher training physics target will not be met this year. Universities will not be able to fill the spare places with chemists or biologists, and academics have warned this will leave schools without science teachers in the future.

"Setting these targets for physics is essential, but I would be very surprised if they were met this year, this will take longer," said Professor Main.

Only 40 universities in England run physics degrees. The IoP and the TDA have so far run events in London, at Imperial College, King's College and Royal Holloway University and there are plans to target maths and engineering departments at universities around the country.

Last year 180 physics graduates who applied to teacher training courses were not given places.

"Obviously we don't want people who are unsuitable teaching, but would extra training for them have made a difference?" asked Professor Main. "Even if we could have got half this number into the classroom it would make a big difference."

Annette Smith, chief executive of the Association for Science Education, said meeting the targets would be a "tall order". "The numbers of graduates aren't sufficient, and these targets were set very, very late," she said.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We hope the places will be filled. But if they aren't, it will be for the Department in discussion with the TDA to decide what remedial action should be taken at the appropriate time."


518: Trainee physics teachers this year

925: Physics teacher trainees target, 201112

40: Universities offering physics degrees

180: Physics graduates turned down for teacher training last year.

  • Original headline: Gove is warned: `Physics trainee target simply cannot be met'

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