Negative numbers

19th May 2000 at 01:00
A sharp rise in the number of maths teacher vacancies shows the impact of recruitment difficulties, writes John Howson

THE FAILURE to recruit enough graduates to train as maths teachers in 1998 has led to a sharp rise in the number of vacancies.

This January, vacancies for maths teachers hit a 10-year high, with some 230 posts vacant in England at the date of the census. Vacancies represent some 1.2 per cent of the Department for Education and Employment's estimate of the total number of maths teachers in post.

If the average secondary maths department has five specialist maths staff - probably an underestimate - present vacancy rates mean that perhaps 5 per cent of secondaries are short of a maths specialist. This compares with roughly half that number only two years ago (see graph).

Not since 1986, when the vacancy rate reached 1.4 per cent, has the percentage been worse than this year. Indeed,

it has only been equalled in three of the years since, 1987, 1989and 1990. This is despite the

fact that the secondary maths teaching force is now some 8,000 smaller than it was in 1990.

Of course, it is not only maths that is affected by a rise in teacher vacancies. There were more vacancies than last year in almost all subjects except history, PE and art. Indeed, all subjects, apart from geography and PE, recorded their worst figure for vacancies, as a percentage of teachers in post, since 1990.

Many secondaries trying to use the Budget windfall to employ more teachers may find there are simply not enough to go round, since it will be September 2001 before any overall upturn in teacher supply is expected.

But happily, the introduction of "golden hellos" last year means that there should be more new maths and science teachers looking for jobs this summer than last year.

Th author is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University. E-mail: Sources: DFEE Statistical Volumes and First Releases

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