Mentor plan aims to stop maths and science teachers from quitting

20th August 2010 at 01:00
Starting Out programme will offer one-to-one support for new recruits in bid to keep `shortage subject' staff in the profession

New maths and science teachers will get one-to-one support as part of a drive to cut the number of staff leaving the profession.

Half of all those who teach the shortage STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) leave teaching within five years, a considerably higher drop-out rate than in other subjects.

They will now be given intensive support, including being paired with retired heads, university lecturers and other teachers for a year.

The Starting Out programme, funded by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), will help new teachers develop their subject knowledge and professional skills.

Participants will get advice on lesson planning, the use of resources and how to work with local scientists.

Many maths and science teachers do not have degrees in the subjects they teach: only 20 per cent of science teachers are physics specialists and 25 per cent are qualified chemists.

Starting Out comes three years after a review found that the UK needed to "invest in the future" in science and technology to remain competitive with other nations.

The 2007 review by Lord Sainsbury, titled The Race to the Top, was commissioned by the Labour government. It recommended a mentoring scheme for newly qualified teachers, boosting numbers of qualified science teachers and encouraging more pupils to take triple science GCSEs.

The TDA has also been targeting older career-changers who want to become STEM teachers through its Transition to Teaching programme.

"Recruitment to maths and science courses is improving, but unless we support these students there's going to be a `leaky bath' situation," said Mark Ellis, programme manager of Starting Out. "We really need to keep these people, especially if the Government has spent a lot of money finding and training them.

"It's very helpful for those starting out to be able to turn to someone who isn't their boss and we hope this will improve retention rates."

Starting Out is modelled on a scheme run by the National Science Teachers Association in America.

The pilot scheme was launched in three regions - London, the West Midlands and the East - at the beginning of this year, but the main roll-out will take place next month.

Some 800 teachers, who are training in their first two years of working, are taking part. They can choose to have face-to-face mentoring, subject- specific mentoring over the phone and the internet, or group work with other local colleagues.

Amanda Middleton, who runs teacher training for the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: "Starting Out is a really useful way of helping teachers - especially useful if they work in schools where they don't get a great deal of support.

"Mentoring is a really good idea; many new teachers need help to show how their subject knowledge can be put into practice in the classroom. We've found they really appreciate being able to link up with other NQTs."

Starter support

Adefunke Ewedemi joined the mentoring scheme in February while on teaching practice in a challenging London school.

Her mentor, a retired Ofsted inspector, helped her find ways to tackle bad behaviour and cope with mixed-ability classes.

"It's very useful having the support," Ms Ewedemi said. "We meet and I phone and email him. I had a Year 9 low-ability class and there were behavioural issues. I found it hard when I had them for two-hour lessons - they couldn't sit still for long periods.

"My mentor gave me guidance and the confidence to go to my head of department. It's great to have an extra helping hand."


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