Nearly half of secondary schools using non-specialists to teach maths

Teacher recruitment woes mean more secondary pupils taught by non-specialists - and schools with lower Ofsted ratings worst hit

Teacher recruitment woes mean more secondary pupils taught by non-specialists - and schools with lower Ofsted ratings worst hit

22 Nov 2022, 5:00

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New research shows secondary schools reporting severe recruitment issues were more likely to have non-specialists teaching maths lessons

Nearly half of secondary schools have used non-specialists to teach at least some maths lessons amid ongoing recruitment issues in the sector, a new analysis has found.

A report from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) also found that teachers whose degrees were in other subjects were being asked to deliver classes in physics and modern foreign languages (MFL).

In the academic years 2019/20 and 2020/21, 45 per cent of state-funded secondary schools surveyed for the research reported using non-specialist teachers for at least ‘some’ maths lessons. The figure for physics and MFL stood at 39 per cent and 17 per cent respectively.

All three subjects have failed to meet initial teacher training (ITT) targets over a number of years. An analysis by Schools Week of ITT recruitment for 2022/23 showed that physics was likely to take the biggest hit.

Despite a target of 2,610 trainee physics teachers, only 516 – 20 per cent – had been recruited or given a conditional offer as of September 19.

Only 36 per cent of the target for MFL had been met, while 83 per cent of the target for maths trainees had been met.

Lack of applicants and budget pressures behind recruitment woes

The report notes that with ITT entrants this year expected to fall well below the level of 2019 and retention levels in the sector returning to pre-pandemic levels, “secondary schools are likely to struggle with filling vacancies in the coming years”.

Vacancies are already at high levels, with TeachVac already reporting 100,000 adverts for teaching posts this year. The teacher job site said in a “normal year”, schools post around 60,000 vacancy adverts for such roles.

Alongside a lack of available and qualified applicants, schools also cited budget pressures as a key recruitment challenge.

Asked in autumn 2020 if they could afford to recruit another teacher if they needed to, only 27 per cent of secondary school leaders said they could. The figure improved slightly to 32 per cent in 2021.

Across the two years, a total of 650 responses were received from senior leaders in secondary schools. NFER’s study was funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

NFER found that a key approach to resolve shortages was too deploy non-specialists to teach certain subjects.

But Jack Worth, the organisation’s school workforce lead and co-author of the report, said this could make “school improvement harder right across the system”.

“We call on the government to place a renewed focus on improving teacher recruitment and retention, to ensure a sufficient supply of teachers, and in turn, support the improvement of pupil outcomes in schools through the education system,” he added.

Senior leaders increasingly having to teach lessons

Schools with the greatest recruitment issues were even more likely to use teachers without a specialism to deliver key subjects.

In the 20 per cent of schools that experienced the most difficulty in recruiting teachers, according to the survey, 62 per cent reported that at least some maths lessons had been taught by non-specialists.

The figures for physics and MFL were 55 per cent and 26 per cent respectively..

Around 70 per cent of secondary schools also reported senior leaders doing more teaching than usual.

The report warns this could “reduce the school’s leadership capacity and, in turn, limit the schools’ ability to function well operationally and make improvements to teaching”.

It also suggests a link between low Ofsted ratings and increased recruitment challenges. Only 15 per cent of primary and secondary schools rated ‘outstanding’ and 20 per cent rated ‘good’ were among those classed as experienced the most difficulty with recruitment.

But 26 per cent of schools requiring improvement or rated as inadequate were among this group.

NFER said this could “exacerbate the challenges of improving the quality of education in the school” whether through reduced leadership capacity or lower-quality teachers being deployed.

Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “Knowledgeable and inspiring teachers are vital for ensuring that every pupil receives a high-quality education.

“It is therefore of great concern that the report’s findings highlight how recruitment challenges are leading to an increased use of non-specialist teachers, particularly in schools struggling to hire teaching staff, and in particular parts of the country.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said it recognised there was “more to do” to attract and keep “talented individuals” in classrooms.

“That’s why we have put in place a range of measures to improve teacher recruitment, retention and quality including the highest pay award in a generation for all teachers, as well as bursaries worth £27,000 tax-free and scholarships worth £29,000 tax-free, to encourage talented trainees in key subjects such as chemistry, computing, mathematics and physics.”

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  1. The job is just not a good job any more. Far too much paper work and time spent not actually teaching. It’s not fun and constant negative grief from not only kids and parents but your own leaders. All your time is taken away as you have to do it all in your own time. People come try it and realise . Nah not for me.i have options as they have a non teaching degree that transfers.

    • James F Thorley

      It has always been difficult to recruit excellent mathematicians to teach
      A good maths or physics degree is so transferable. You need talented staff to inspire students. Too many pupils and parents have a hangup with regards to maths because they themselves were poorly taught. The same goes for physics, too few females take it to ‘A’ level. Mature graduates who entered teaching recently find the classroom a difficult environment. We, as a country, ignore the problem at our peril. Look to Singapore and China to see a different environment. We have had some excellent advisors who’s advice has been ignored. We will regret this in the future. (Former Mathematics and Computing Advisor).