A bleak staffing crisis facing secondary school maths departments across the country is revealed in a new survey by the Mathematical Association, shared with TES.
The research shows how maths departments are increasingly relying on non-specialists, supply teachers and unqualified teachers – as experienced staff say that the pressure on maths teachers and poor pay is driving them out of the profession.
Just 46 per cent of maths teachers said that their departments were fully staffed for September, when the survey of 520 staff was carried out at the end of term, and 18 per cent said they still required two or more teachers.
More than half (54 per cent) of the maths teachers surveyed said that they were teaching alongside at least one non-specialist; while 29 per cent said there were unqualified staff in their department. Some 30 per cent of respondents said that they would “probably leave teaching in the next few years”.
The news is only the latest setback for the government’s attempts to attract more people into maths teaching, through tactics such as bursaries worth up to £25,000-a-year for trainees.
The government’s teacher supply model, published last year, predicted that 3,102 maths trainees will be needed in 2016 – 29 per cent more than were recruited in 2015.
But by the end of last month, there were only 2,010 trainees due to begin training as maths teachers in September 2016, with a further 140 holding an offer, Ucas statistics show.
David Miles, spokesman for the Mathematical Association, said that the latest study raised doubts over government plans to expand maths education post-16.
“We knew that there were pockets of great discontent,” Mr Miles, who is also assistant headteacher of Sir John Leman High School in Beccles, Suffolk, said.
“There are certain geographical areas where it is almost impossible to recruit. But when you read the comments they show that this is a problem all across the country.
“I am aware of people teaching A level who don’t have that level themselves; an awful lot of maths teachers don’t have maths beyond GCSE.”
At Alcester Academy in Warwickshire, winner of maths team of the year at the TES Schools Awards 2016, the maths department only manages to be fully staffed with the help of non-specialist and unqualified staff who are trained and supported to teach maths.
“There are serious issues that are not being addressed about retention,” Mel Muldowney, associate subject leader in maths at Alcester Academy, said.
“People are leaving the profession in droves. It makes me really sad. It is such a great job, but it is workload and the pressure of accountability in maths.
“We do what we have to, but that means the extent of the problem is not really being seen.”
Earlier this year, the government announced its ambition for all pupils to study maths until the age of 18.
Professor Sir Adrian Smith, the vicechancellor of the University of London, who chaired a 2004 inquiry into maths teaching, is leading a review into how to improve maths teaching post-16, which is due to report at the end of this year.
Mr Miles said: “Professor Sir Adrian Smith has a colossal task on his hands to come up with a credible solution to the issue of teacher supply, as one aspect of this study into the feasibility of introducing compulsory post-16 mathematics.”
Leora Cruddas, head of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The recruitment and retention of teachers has become the number one priority for our members – more significant than school funding.”
As well as introducing bursaries for maths trainees, in December 2014 the government announced it would invest £67 million over five years to train 2,500 maths and physics teachers, with further training for 15,000 existing teachers in these subjects.
It has also introduced a specialist route into teacher training for post-doctoral maths researchers on a salary of between £32,000 and £40,000.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We continue to offer generous bursaries and scholarships for trainee maths teachers.”
What maths teachers say
“It is now almost impossible to recruit specialist teachers of mathematics. Our last two appointments have had no qualifications in mathematics beyond GCSE but they were the only applicants.”
“Have had to ask all staff if anyone would like to teach a few maths lessons next year. Non-specialists teaching a few lessons will outnumber our specialist maths teachers next year.”
“When secondary maths education returns to inspiring and exploring maths without the soul-destroying ‘test, teach, test’ approach with impossible performance objective targets, I might consider risking my health and return to teaching. Until then, I am enjoying tutoring and working as a TA and have regained my health and life.”
“The pressure on maths and English teachers should be reflected in their pay. A colleague left maths teaching and went into industry and is getting paid £20k more than in teaching.”
“I left due to school politics and a one-size-fits-every-subject mentality. The final straw was when I refused to use a three-page planning document for every lesson I taught.”
“It’s a disgrace that trainees are getting paid far more than their mentors in some cases. My school now has a pay freeze on: no 1 per cent or moving up the pay scale next year for anyone.”
Source: Mathematical Association survey