One quarter of mathematics teachers in England don’t have a degree in the subject according to the data released by the Department of Education. In all, that means that 9,500 teachers around the country don’t have the expertise that comes from obtaining a university diploma in the subject that they teach. The worst news of all might be that the number of such teachers has grown by nearly 1,000 in the past year and is expected to go up even more in the future.
Although the situation isn’t as dire among English Language Arts instructors – only 20% lack a university English degree – among teachers of the sciences subjects like geography, only about two-thirds have the requisite expertise.
This is very bad news, according to the director to the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University Alan Smithers. Instructors who lack good academic background in the subject that they teach risk alienating their students and reduce their enthusiasm. The impact of being “turned off” due to sub-part instruction could haunt the students years down the line and reduces the number of university entrants who choose to major in mathematics or the sciences.
“The absolute essential thing is that a teacher has a good understanding of the subject at the level they are teaching it,” he said. “Our best indicator of that is holding a degree or post-A-level qualification.”
Prof Smithers added: “If you have a biologist teaching physics, even at age 11, it may well be that their enthusiasm for physics isn’t there, and the child isn’t excited by it and moves in another direction.
“It’s the understanding and enthusiasm that’s important.”
The decreasing number of properly-educated teachers could be due to an ongoing severe instructor shortage, especially in the “hard” subjects. Schools are being forced to place staff that has expertise in other areas in classrooms in order to make sure that there’s at least someone instructing the students. Over the past several years, English schools have experienced difficulties in recruiting staff qualified to teach math, science and foreign languages, so inexperienced instructors are almost an inevitable development.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “If we want an education system that ranks with the best in the world, we have to attract outstanding people into the profession, and give them excellent training – at the start of – and throughout – their careers.”
The government is overhauling teacher training and offering better financial bursaries to top science, maths and languages graduates to encourage them to become teachers, she said.