Maths Teachers – A crisis that doesn’t need to happen

The maths teacher crisis rears its head yet again. This has been going on for decades now and evidently is really hitting a serious crisis point. I kind of see that from my own experience. My son’s school have a ‘good’ maths teacher and ‘the other one’. The ‘other one’ gets to teach the top sets because of course they don’t need much help to get them a C at GCSE, forget aim higher, the C will do when it comes to Maths. The good teacher is reserved for the lower ability groups who need to get a C so that the school’s statistics look good at the end of the year. I guess if there’s time they’ll spend some time nurturing the top set to achieve A’s but for now that’s not important. Able students = useless teacher. Struggling students = good teacher.

My son has figured out that his teacher is inept and has, after much unrest, requested a permanent demotion to the lower maths set. Although he sits at the top of the top set, he is not embarrassed to wear the label of second set at all, he knows that’s where he is getting what he deserves, a decent teacher who can manage a class, make it interesting and from whom he actually might learn something. Within 8 days of his move his grade in a test had improved by 8% to 98% so I really think he made a good call on that one and his latent potential to achieve an A will be transformed into an A* eventual outcome now. Not because of the school’s interventions, but his own. Pity kids who don’t have the political insight to see that they are being hard done to and take a stand.

So all’s good. Back to the news of the day. Maths teachers are to be given a £25k golden hello, on top of the bursary I imagine, there’s nothing to state otherwise. Money has failed to tempt people into the profession and it will continue to fail to tempt people into the profession. People tempted into teach solely by money are not going to be the best teachers. Am I the only one who thinks that? 

I read a side of the debate which said that maths geeks, the type of people who are turned on by crunching numbers, solving complex problems, delving through mountains of calculations to find codes, patterns, applying principles and logic are often (and this was the author’s opinion not mine) not the best people people. They tend to be very logic driven, not such good social actors and communicators – qualities both arguably essential in an effective teacher. Maths graduates have no desire to stand in front of a gang of mischievous 14 year olds and teach them the most simple and boring of principles, they want to be challenged, they want to make a difference they want to be employed in technical, groundbreaking, geeky careers which make them a fortune or allow them to geek out with other logic driven minds. Somebody who pursues mathematics academically is not really thinking of teaching as a career… there will be exceptions, but that A level can be hard enough to accomplish, the degree level study must be a world of pain and for what? To forget everything you’ve learned, abandon the beginnings of your thrilling, complex research and go back to teaching basic calculus and algebra to snotty kids with the risk of having a chair thrown at you and being forced to dress up and sing and dance at the end of year recital?

I argued with the author of the above sentiments that perhaps we’re getting it all wrong then. Perhaps we don’t need maths graduates to teach maths in our schools. What about the myriad of graduates who maybe secured a good A level maths grade but chose an unrelated subject at university? Why aren’t they good enough to teach to GCSE standard? Afterall a degree can be taught by a person who holds a degree, a masters by a masters holder, an A level even by an A level holder, it doesn’t always follow that you have to be an expert in a field or to have achieved lofty academic heights in your subject to teach it.

Why can’t we encourage the formation of clusters of schools who share a maths expert, a maths graduate, the rare type who want to teach and let him/her coach other teachers from the cluster in delivery of the GCSE and A level curriculum. Why not use other teachers to teach maths and instead of paying out thousands in bursaries and golden hellos pay them a premium for teaching maths. For example, a fabulous technology teacher, tried and tested with a good teaching record who has an A level maths A grade. Does he/she want to be a part of the maths cluster teaching a set number of hours at an elevated rate of pay above and beyond the teaching they already do as part of their employment contract?

Why are we looking to new graduates why not look within the profession for tried and tested teachers who have skills enough to teach kids to the standard required? Why not bolster the morale of existing teaching professionals and offer them an opportunity to try something new, earn a few more quid, make a difference?

Also I feel that there needs to be a distinction between numeracy and maths. Why are we trying to force kids who don’t care and will never use it about algebra and trigonometry? Why are we spending so much time and effort on kids who really only need to be able to perform simple mathematical functions, measure and weigh, estimate and average? Why aren’t we assessing their needs and abilities before setting them up for a fail and setting out on mission impossible?

I know that it’s unfair to deny anyone anything but this is a crisis and it is affecting the children who are able and willing, it’s affecting not only their grades but more importantly their passion for a subject which we need people to be passionate about, because if they become passionate about it they might study it and if they study it they might want to teach it and it may no longer be the elitist reserve of the logic driven geek who is happier behind a computer than in front of a classroom.

There is such resistance to the two tier system of education but one size does not fit all and if education really has the needs of the student at its heart then it should be multi-leveled anyway. We can see that now and having a choice of two sizes with fluidity between the two on a subject ability basis, rather than being predetermined as was in the ‘olden days’ of O’levels and CSE’s purely by your ability in English, has to be the way forward. Wouldn’t it be better to leave school with a valid, respected qualification in functional numeracy and/or mathematics than to leave school with nothing and make up for it later by sitting a… you guessed it… functional skills certificate. What are we waiting for? We don’t need to be paying thousands of pounds to maths graduates, we don’t need maths graduates and we don’t need everyone studying the same mathematics syllabus.






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