Staying power

21st September 2001 at 01:00
As well as recruiting newly qualified teachers schools must invest more in their experienced staff, says Sue Sanders.

The Government may have expected congratulatory headlines recently when the recruitment to initial teacher training appeared to be buoyant once again. Instead they have faced a barrage of negative stories focusing on teaching shortages and vacancies being filled by less-than-ideal candidates and non-specialist teachers. And while there has been a rise in the number of people training to be maths teachers, the situation is not improving quickly enough.

This problem will not be solved merely by training new teachers. We must ask how we can retain our highly competent and enthusiastic maths teachers.

"Numeracy consultants" for the key stage 3 roll-out have swallowed up some very good staff, but the sharing of best practice is important and, while expertise will be lost to an individual school, many other schools will be advantaged.

Overall, the teaching workforce is ageing, and experienced staff retiring. How might they be persuaded to stay on?

Meanwhile, those in mid-career (30 to 40-year-olds) leave and create an "experience gap", meaning that more and more pupils are being taught by relatively new teachers - keen and enthusiastic, but without the solid experience needed to tackle the most able pupils and provide leadership. There are also those who begin with commitment and then drop out.

We need to consider radical strategies. Two important initiatives, a research project funded by the Standing Conference on Studies in Education and a national day conference organised by the Open University, are due to report later this year on recruitment and retention of maths teachers.

I believe strongly there are far too few opportunities for maths teachers to continue their engagement with maths.

Secondments, exchanges and release time to explore contexts where maths is used would help. Partnerships with professional mathematicians could provide opportunities to keep up to date.

A number of companies fund and provide mentors for children in schools as part of "community service": they could do the same for teachers.

Partnerships with university departments could be developed further. Academics could also get involved in teaching in schools. We might even get more pupils taking maths degrees. Maybe a funded pilot scheme is the way ahead. Intellectually, this would challenge our experienced teachers.

"Good practice bursaries" available in England for teachers to engage in research into education could be extended to allow teachers to carry out research into a mathematical topic.

LEAs and schools could support taught masters programmes including modules on maths, rather than focusing on standards, management, special needs and so on. This would help the middle age group develop their careers at a negligible cost. For those who have come straight into maths teaching through the school, university, school route, who then find themselves approaching 30 with a desire to see the wider world, why not devise a strategy that allows for travel and a teaching career to be combined?

What about teacher exchanges, not just within the Commonwealth and English-speaking world as now, but beyond for our multilingual young teachers? Would it be possible to give teachers three, six or 12 months' sabbatical away from school on full salary?

The cost would still be less than training a new teacher and waiting for them to develop the expertise of a 40-year-old head of department.

Why not offer a year's sabbatical on full pay after 20 years? If we are to raise standards then we need experienced teachers, not only newly qualified teachers. To address the shortage of good maths teachers, we also need to do something to keep the good staff we already have.

Sue Sanders is senior lecturer ineducation at the University of Wales and President ofThe Mathematical Association,259 London Road, LeicesterLE2 3BE.Tel: 0116 2210013.Web:

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