Alistair Ross and David Thomson examine the implications of mathematics being taught mainly by women
YOUNG male maths teachers are becoming an extremely scarce commodity in London.
In some parts of the capital nine out of every 10 maths teachers under the age of 30 are female.
The rapid feminisation of the traditionally male maths department has been revealed by a six-borough study of teacher recruitment and retention that has been conducted by researchers from the University of North London.
At present 33 per cent of the boroughs' maths teachers are male and many of them are at the upper end of the age range. Overall, 57 per cent of the boroughs' maths teaching force are over the age of 40.
But if the current recruitment ratio is maintained men will occupy only 18 per cent of maths posts in 15 years time. By then, 62 per cent of maths teachers in the six boroughs - Hammersmith and Fulham, Harrow, Islington, Lewisham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest - should be under 40 (see figure 1).
The male teaching force may well decline sharply in the following five years as men who are now aged 40 to 45 move into retirement. The gender ratio may then stabilise at around 12 per cent male to 88 per cent female.
Though the number of PGCE applications for maths courses has risen this year, probably in response to the new Teacher Training Agency bursary scheme, the number of vacancies in maths advertised between Easter and early May this year outstripped the predicted 1999 output of newly-qualified teachers of maths (TES, May 14,1999).
Young male graduates' growing reluctance to undertake teacher training may have contributed to the current shortage. Only 55 per cent of male maths teachers were 24 or younger when they achieved qualified teacher status, compared with 66 per cent of their female colleagues.
Non-specialists are, of course, drafted in to teach the subject: this may be increasingly necessary to fill shortfalls. Our evidence suggests that the great majority of such teachers, who are either specialists in other subjects or senior managers, are over 40 (see figure 2).
Such projected changes would raise a number of questions. Will the feminisation of the mathematics workforce encourage more young women to study mathematics post 18? Or will it alienate young men through engendering a perception that maths is a "girls' subject"?
Similarly, will the fact that the teaching force is significantly younger affect pupils' perceptions?
Education researchers who wish to disseminate their findings in The TES should send summaries of no more than 750 words to David Budge, Research Editor, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Tel 0171 7823276.
Alistair Ross is professor of education at the University of North London.
David Thomson is a research fellow.