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Generous teaching bursaries fail to tempt maths and physics graduates into teaching

By Sam Collins,

24 Jan 2020

Teaching bursaries fail to tempt maths and physics graduates into teaching.

Walk into any secondary school maths lesson in the UK and there is an 18% chance that the teacher does not have a maths degree.
Their survey of 520 staff in July revealed that only “46 per cent of maths teachers said their departments were fully staffed for September.” 18% still needed two or more teachers at the end of term.

David Miles, of the Mathematical Association, 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 … an awful lot of maths teachers don’t have maths beyond GCSE.” [i]   Over a quarter of the teachers teaching physics at secondary school level do not have a relevant post A-level qualification in the subject, according to DFE statistics.

[ii] This situation is repeated across a range of subjects and shows a worrying number of non-specialists teaching subjects right up to A-level.   The NAHT school recruitment survey 2015[iii] reported that “Maths, English, SEN and General Science were the subjects most respondents struggled to recruit when seeking subject specialists.”   “I know of a school whose Science department comprises 17 teachers, but only two have science degrees.

The school is in one of the most deprived wards in the country.

More than most, its students need the very best teachers.” [iv]This viewpoint is echoed in the findings of research from the National Audit Office, with “54% of leaders in schools with large proportions of disadvantaged pupils saying attracting and keeping good teachers was a major problem compared with 33% of leaders in other schools.

[v]   These are worth up to £30,000 to graduates willing to train to teach shortage subjects.

Over £620 million has been handed out in bursaries in the past five years, with very little analysis into their impact.

This table shows the level of funding available for 2016/2017. The urgent need to recruit Maths and Physics teachers is reflected in the fact that the lowest level of bursary for these subjects can be accessed “without a 2:2 qualification” as long as the degree is in a relevant subject with a B at A-level in Maths, Further Maths or Physics.   A recent National Audit Office report into teacher recruitment was damming about the DFE’s understanding of teacher supply – you can read a summary of the key points here.[vii]   John Howson of TeachVac recently described the predicted figures for the coming academic year on his blog; “Languages, PE, History, Geography, English, Biology and Art should meet their targets for recruitment.

On the other hand, RE, Physics, Music, Mathematics and IT look as if they are unlikely to do so.

The jury is out on Chemistry and Business studies.”[viii] Even the promise of a hefty bursary cannot tempt enough maths and physics graduates into teaching.   Not enough teachers are being recruited in these subjects to replace those leaving the profession.

The DFE expect a 20% rise in the secondary pupil population by 2024[ix].

Putting these two facts together, it seems that, unless there is a dramatic increase in trainee teachers there simply will not be enough teachers to put in front of classes.

These shortage subjects will surely be the worst affected.   Sam Collins @samschoolstuff   Sam teaches in Devon, and has over 20 years of experience in education.

She is the founder of .   References; [i] TES - Exclusive: Unqualified teachers drafted in as maths staffing crisis deepens – July 2016.

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[ii] DFE – Statistics – national statistics - School Workforce in England: November 2015.  Available at [iii] NAHT - The NAHT school recruitment survey 2015 – Decebmber 2015.

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[iv] John Tomsett – This much I know about…how we are on our own when it comes to the teacher recruitment crisis – July 2016.

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[v] National Audit Office – Training New Teachers – February 2016.

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[vi] DFE – Get Into Teaching.

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[vii] Schoolsweek - NAO Teacher Recruitment Report: The 15 key points.

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[viii] John Howson – Hopefully not a fool’s paradise – July 2016.

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[ix] DFE - National Pupil Projections - Future Trends in Pupil Numbers: July 2015.

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