Better salaries may be key to tackling shortage of teachers, says national science centre chief. Jon Slater reports.
The man charged with improving the quality of science teaching called today for science teachers to be paid more than other teachers, shattering six decades of a common pay scale.
John Holman, director of the National Science Learning Centre, said more had to be done to attract science graduates into the classroom and reverse the decline in popularity of the subject.
Writing in today's TES, he says specialists in physics, chemistry and biology are vital to perform experiments and help the brightest pupils reach their potential, yet many schools are lucky to have a single physics graduate.
Teaching salaries are insufficient to compete with more lucrative opportunities open to science graduates in banking, computing and even private schools, Professor Holman says.
The lack of specialist teachers has contributed to an accelerating decline in the popularity of science subjects among pupils. Only 28,119 students sat A-level physics this year, down by around 5,500 since 1998.
The Government has repeatedly failed to reach its targets for recruiting science teachers.
The latest figures from the Graduate Teacher Training Registry show 2,574 accepted applicants for science postgraduate certificate in education courses. This is well below the Government's target of 3,325, although not all successful applicants have yet been counted.
While there were 958 successful applicants for general science and 862 for biology, only 434 chose chemistry and 301 physics.
The Government has attempted to boost the recruitment of science teachers by offering pound;4,000 "golden hellos" and training salaries of Pounds 6,000.
But despite support for the idea among some Blairites, ministers have so far resisted the temptation to introduce differential pay for shortage subjects.
A report by Sir Gareth Roberts, president of Wolfson college Oxford, for the Treasury in 2002 called for higher pay for science and maths teachers.
In February, the School Teachers' Review Body rejected proposals for higher pay for advanced science and maths teachers.
Dr Stuart Walker, a newly qualified science teacher working at Hungerhill secondary in Doncaster, has a PhD in analytical chemistry.
He said: "The finances are an issue. I have a good friend who works for GlaxoSmithKline. He has the same qualifications as me but earns double what I earn. I cannot really afford my own house.
"A lot of friends in industry might consider teaching if the salary was higher."
As The TES revealed in January, chartered science teacher status, a new badge of excellence, will be launched next month by the Association for Science Education.
Any move to introduce different pay rates for different subjects will be strongly resisted by unions anxious to preserve a national pay system and avoid dividing the profession.