Parliament is in another frenzy as IPSA, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, has had its 10% pay rise for MPs bitterly rejected by many of the future recipients before they voted to accept it in full.
IPSA says that it isn’t as good an offer as it looks since the golden goodbyes are being scrapped, fiddling expenses will become more difficult and the fantastic pensions are being trimmed a little. Sir Ian, the head of IPSA, says
In making this decision we are very aware of the strongly held views of many members of the public and by some MPs themselves.We have listened to those views.
We have made an important change to the way in which pay will be adjusted annually.
Over the last Parliament, MPs’ pay increased by 2%, compared to 5% in the public sector and 10% in the whole economy. It is right that we make this one-off increase and then formally link MPs’ pay to public sector pay.
The ongoing crisis in school Physics teaching was not improved much by the last government, leaving most lessons taught by biologists or chemists. Most English teachers have first class degrees, but a quarter of new Physics teachers have third class degrees, more than any other subject. This is for two main reasons.
First, physicists are drawn to the abstract and the impersonal, and so not many are cut out for the intense social experience that is teaching. This leaves teacher training colleges accepting almost anyone who applies.
Second, few qualified physicists and engineers are willing to work for the kind of salary that is intended to be attractive to people with English or History degrees. Industry pays what is needed to attract those with shortage skills.
The Education Minister, though, has a cunning plan: bar those with a third class degree from funded teacher training places. This will, apparently, make teaching more attractive to the better educated and improve the quality and standing of teaching as a profession. And, to give Gove some credit, there is some logic in this.
Modern students deciding on their career choices do see the most difficult to enter professions as the most desirable, so the elite students gravitate to Medicine, with its history of insufficient training places to train all the physicians we need. The restricted entry leads to high levels of salary and a social standing out of all proportion to the skills actually needed to work as a GP.
So Gove’s solution is to raise the entry bar for prospective teachers, without a corresponding pay rise for those with shortage skills. Pay has not risen above inflation for the last decade, and it is still impossible for many schools to fill their Maths and Physics posts with specialists as a result.
The problem Gove has, though, is that teaching is a profession accepts anyone with a non-honours pass degree from a university which may only ask for two grade E’s at A Level. Rejecting third class honours wholesale says that a Third in Physics from Oxford or in Engineering from Imperial College is not as desirable as a Lower Second Class degree in Textiles:Knit from the University of Westminster.
An engineering company short of skills or experience would offer a rewards package to attract the best people to apply, and then employ the best amongst the applicants.
Teaching will not become a desirable career for the best qualified and most able people until the salaries reflect the level of ability needed for each post. It takes more money to employ a good mathematician or physicist than it does to get high quality English teachers.
Does Gove have the courage to introduce differential pay in the face of the unions? The current funding squeeze is the perfect cover with the unions weakened, and will be the only chance for a generation. I won’t be holding my breath.
MPs have tabled an Early Day Motion to raise awareness of the importance of the shortage of Physics teachers. I’ve written before about the chronic and worsening shortage of Physics teachers (here, here and here), and the attempts by the TDA to hide the decline in which they claimed that all specialist teacher recruitment targets had been met, and it is worth while keeping the issue alive.
Although EDMs don’t often get debated on the floor of the Commons, they do get picked up by the media, and perhaps ministers, if they are well supported, so use the link here to contact your MPs and ask them to sign this one.
The full text is below:
Physics Teachers (no. 467)
“That this House expresses its concern at the lack of specialist physics teachers and the consequent drastic drop in the number of entrants to physics A-level; recognises the threat this poses to UK physics and engineering and therefore to the UK economy; and calls for greater incentives to attract physics graduates into teaching in order to create access to high-quality physics teaching for every child.”
In 2006, only two hundred out of ten thousand trainee primary teachers had technical, numerate (STEM) degrees, and this number was half the figure from 2004. It is clear that teacher subject knowledge is a key factor in the success of pupils (e.g. here), but it is also plain that specialists are very rare: out over a hundred Initial Teacher Training courses, nearly half offer an emphasis on a modern foreign language, one offers mathematics and none science.
The Williams Review into primary school Maths teaching recommended in 2008 that much of the current malaise in maths education could be solved if every primary school had at least one teacher with a ‘deep understanding’ of mathematics, so we ought be pleased that the government has announced a program to provide maths ‘specialists’.
But, as with many government solutions, the Maths Specialist Teachers Programme (MaST) is more about appearances than solving the shortage of expertise. In service teachers are to be given three autumn-term days of training at a university, two weekend residential and twelve half-days of in-school support over two years, after which they will be described as Maths Specialist teachers.
I don’t know how long it would take to turn a primary school teacher, with perhaps a Fine Arts or English Literature degree, into an expert Maths teacher, but I’m sure it’s more than the ten days offered in the MaST program.
Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove has said that a Conservative government will exempt good physics (and science and maths) graduates from student loan repayments if they go into teaching. The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), meanwhile, has muddied the waters by claiming to have exceeded its targets to recruit and train teachers for all main shortage specialisms.
The teacher training quango has managed to massage the teacher recruitment figures to disguise the shortage of physics teachers in schools, by failing to set a target for their recruitment. The TDA reported that “for the first time ever” recruitment to all main specialisms has exceeded their targets and that “a healthy supply of well-trained teachers is entering our classrooms.”
The total number of mainstream registrations of Science teachers did indeed rise, by 1%, from 3655 last year to 3701, although to claim that the target of just 3405 was exceeded “by as much as 9%” seems to be over-egging the results a little.
The key omission, though, is that there is no target for physics teachers at all! Their numbers declined from 584 last year to an estimated 571. Bang goes the government target of having physicists making up a quarter of all science teachers by 2012. With a quarter of current physics teachers already over 50 and keen to retire, this target looks as far away as ever.
The Conservatives, though, look like they at least recognise the seriousness of the problem.
In a speech to the Sir John Cass Foundation, Michael Gove said
“We will make a new offer to people – similar to something President Obama wants to do. If after leaving school someone decides to do a maths or science degree at a designated university, achieves a 2:1 or First, and decides to go into teaching, the taxpayer will cover their student loan repayments for as long as they remain in teaching (until the loan is fully paid).”
This could be worth £40k to a teacher whose pay cannot otherwise be increased beyond that offered to other, less scarce, specialisms.
“Children in approximately 500 secondary schools across the country have no teachers with experience of physics beyond school.
“This means too many students being taught physics by teachers who may not even have taken the subject at A-level. How can students be inspired by teachers who themselves have no solid grasp of the subject?
Results day is nearly on us, but those unfortunate students who miss their offer grades will have fewer options than usual this year. There is more competition, and even the standard fallback, clearing, will not have many course places to offer.
For a quick assessment of the regular effects of this silliest part of the silly season on teachers check last year’s post on the matter (the newspapers will just roll out the same stories anyway). This post will focus instead on the students.
This Year is Different
This year is different for anyone biting their nails waiting for Thursday’s results, because of the combined effects of three government policies:
- One is the often discussed grade inflation, which leads ever larger proportions of the school population to feel they have what it takes to succeed at university, and allows the government to claim standards are improving.
- The second is the lack of funding to cover the extra costs to institutions of teaching the increasing numbers of undergraduates.
- And the third is that, for the first time in fifteen years, universities will be financially penalised if they over-recruit.
Traditionally, students’ applications to universities are based on the school predicted grades, which are inflated to improve the chance of an offer. It is not as risky as it sounds, since universities routinely allow students who only miss their offer by one grade to still keep their place. And everyone does it, making it fair, at least. And if they missed out, then last year 44 000 applied for course during Clearing, filling up the remaining university places.
But now, with 40 000 extra applications and only 3 000 extra places, Clearing will only have around 16 000 places on offer, leaving 65 000 hopeful students without a place. And with a demographic peak reaching college in the next year or two, taking a year out and applying again next year is now looking to be a silly strategy.
One could hope that the main effect of all this is that only those students with poor grades applying to weaker institutions will suffer, but many students are unrealistic when it comes to selecting competitive courses at prestigious universities.
Admissions officers are saying they will not allow any ‘softening’ of offers, so missing one A level subject by one grade will lead to a rejection. Even our local ex-teacher-training college-now-university will not soften requirements or offer places for clearing on any but the two most frivolous courses.
The next couple of weeks look likely to deliver heartache on a large scale.
Michael Gove, Conservative Party education policy wonk, has an alternative to the government’s feeble response to the specialist teacher shortage.
Over the last decade, Labour has solved the Physics teacher shortage by making Biology teachers teach Physics, then declaring that there isn’t a science teacher recruitment problem. (see Biologists Shouldn’t Teach Physics) The acute shortage of maths trained teachers in primary schools is magically reversed by paying the more numerate teachers to attend a two or three week course in their summer break, returning to their schools as ‘maths qualified’. Brilliant, but at the same time pathetic.
The long term answer, or course, is to allow some freedom in the market, and pay more for the teacher who has the shortage skills. Gove suggests that head teachers should be allowed to do just that, although the unions have a strong interest in preventing any local pay agreements – national pay bargaining is their most valued power. Opening more schools that can independently set pay rates could work, and Gove seems to be suggesting that, but the new City Academies have been free of council control for years, and I don’t see evidence that pay is varied to ease recruitment difficulties.
It will be hard encouraging Heads to make use of such a power though, as many don’t see specialisms as important. Why would a primary head teacher, of a school with respectable maths test results, want to spend more to recruit a maths specialist? Specialists have never been part of the primary scene, and it would be seen as an insult to the existing generalist teachers, especially if paid differently.
Independent schools, however, do take specialist skills seriously, and many vary pay rates — if government really wants to close the education gap between independent and state schools, then they must bite the pay bullet.