She said that the additional demands of the new National Curriculum and the number of maths teachers leaving the profession were putting increased demands on teaching supply. Many head teachers struggled to recruit maths teachers and six out of 10 schools (nine out of 10 in disadvantaged areas) relied on supply teachers for maths lessons. The real shortage of qualified maths teachers was difficult to assess because so many posts were filled by non-specialists.
Jane Jones addressed the Group on 16 December at its first session in the new Parliament. Among the other points she made:
- In secondary schools, 20% of maths lessons are given by non-specialist teachers
- The best trainee teachers are often snapped up by the most successful schools, leaving lower attaining schools in poorer areas often struggling to recruit good maths teachers
- The quality of staff has the biggest influence on variations in schools’ maths results, including in-school variation
- Attainment is highest in London and lowest in the North-East, especially in secondary schools
- Primary schools have adapted well to the demands of the recently revised maths curriculum
- Secondary schools often waste time on re-testing children’s maths on entry at age 11; children often repeat much of the work they did at primary school when they first get to secondary
- Teachers’ workload pressures are sometimes self-inflicted through, for example, over-complicated marking policies
- However, the uptake of maths A-level has surged: it is now the most popular subject.
The Group was set up last year to draw attention to the crucial role that maths and numeracy play in the UK and the impact this has on society and on people individually. Its current co-chairs are Barry Sheerman MP and Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP.
Following the session with Jane Jones, the Group proposes to look in more detail at the supply of maths teachers in the coming year. It also proposes to consider issues relating to numeracy among adults and young people and cultural attitudes to maths and numeracy more broadly.