Teach? No way, say maths pupils

19th March 1999 at 00:00
David Budge reports on a new survey that suggests the subject's recruitment crisis is far from over

The seriousness of the maths teacher recruitment crisis has been underlined by a new survey showing that only 1 per cent of maths A-level students are interested in teaching the subject in secondary schools.

Only 10 out of 814 maths students in the north-east of England considered following in their maths teachers' footsteps.

In 34 of the 45 schools surveyed in North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Northumberland, not a single upper-sixth maths student was interested in a teaching career.

The shortage of well-qualified maths teachers is now so severe that the profession needs to recruit 50 per cent of all this year's maths graduates in order to make up the shortfall.

The Government intends to offer a pound;5,000 golden hello to trainee maths teachers from this October - half will be paid at the start of their PGCE course, the remainder when they take up their first teaching job.

It was forced to offer the bursary because even prestigious institutions such as Oxford University's department of educational studies were unable to attract enough maths specialists last year.

But the author of the new survey report, Roy Kennard, maths adviser for Sunderland, doubts whether such payments are the answer.

Mr Kennard, who was principal lecturer at Sunderland University when he conducted the survey last September, said "low pay" was the most common reason for rejecting a teaching career. Heavy workloads, difficult pupils and stress were other significant deterrents.

And there was some evidence that those who knew most about the profession - the children of teachers - were particularly loath to consider it.

"Five returns indicated that pupils were particularly negative if their parents were teachers," Mr Kennard said.

"Perhaps we all need to stress the positive side of teaching a lot more - not least the professional satisfaction in contributing to the development of young people."

John Howson, an education consultant who monitors teacher recruitment, said the Government was unlikely to attract enough maths specialists this autumn. But he said that bursaries did appear to be easing the problem.

"As of last week there were 609 applications for maths places on PGCE courses starting this autumn compared with 534 at the same time last year," Mr Howson said. "However, you have to bear in mind that only 1,120 of the 2,270 maths places on PGCE and undergraduate courses were filled last year.

"This year the target is 2,130, with a further 300 places available to mature entrants who will be trained in schools. But unless something dramatic happens we are not going to hit the target this year because we are already half-way through the recruitment cycle."

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