The acute shortage of teachers in British schools has forced school heads to push underqualified teachers to teach highly-skilled subjects like math. There is a shortage of approximately 5,500 maths teachers in the UK, and some schools are so severely desperate for a math teacher that even PE teachers are being asked to step in and teach mathematics to young students and those who are less able. Other schools have gone to the extent of requesting teaching assistants to step up into the role of maths teacher, suggesting that schools are desperate — and that means both students and parents are, too.

Many of the newly qualified teachers coming straight from university are avoiding maths because of increasing pressure from the schools, parents and even from the government. In schools with a shortage of maths teachers, students are behind in the curriculum. Any teacher that has enough guts to take it from there will face tremendous pressure to take the students from the place where they are to the place where they should be.

That is a tough order. Seeing as teaching assistants and PE teachers have in some schools working with students on maths for weeks or months, their academic progress is likely to be minimal. These teachers might be qualified in their various fields, but they are not qualified in the field of mathematics.

Any teacher — newly qualified or not — will find it difficult to gauge students’ understanding of mathematics and improve their ability to grasp new concepts. Under these circumstances, it will be necessary for these teachers to make room for extra classes in order to help students get back on track. Extra pressure and extra classes, particularly for those who aren’t trained in the subject area, will fuel exhaustion.

And the students, who are deprived of both adequate progress and well-trained teachers, ultimately lose. If these students continue to experience difficulties with maths, they will likely grow to detest the subject, as well as perform poorly without much hope of catching up. This is particularly true early on; if students start hating maths at a young age, they will not consider courses of study or careers that make use of maths. They certainly will not decide to focus on maths in the teaching profession, and the cycle of too few math teachers will continue.

It is unfortunate that our students are being taught maths — an incredibly important subject in an ever-evolving 21st century global economy — by teachers who are underqualified. British schools need teachers who understand the teaching techniques and rapidly-changing curriculum necessary to prepare students for further study, the workforce, and perhaps becoming maths teachers themselves.

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