Expert opinion: Changes and cuts under Gove have brought about STEM teacher shortage

Posted by pt91 at Feb 21, 2017 10:10 AM |
Professor Martin Barstow and Professor Chris Wilkins comment on House of Commons Education Committee report

Schools face a “looming disaster” over a severe shortage of teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, education and science experts have warned.

Commenting on today’s report from the House of Commons Education Committee on the recruitment and retention of teachers, Martin Barstow, Professor of Astrophysics and Space Science at the University of Leicester, and Professor Chris Wilkins, the University’s Director of Teacher Education, blamed government policy under former education secretary Michael Gove for worsening teacher shortages in the vital STEM subjects.

Changes introduced by Gove unravelled 10-15 years of slow painstaking work to boost STEM recruitment carried out by the learned societies in conjunction with university teacher training departments, Professor Barstow said.

“I have no particular problem with the school-based approach to the training of teachers by organisations such as Teach First, but to separate teacher training from the expertise of the universities has left trainees unsupported, and I am sure has contributed to the reported decline in all subjects -- but STEM in particular where recruitment has been a perennial challenge, “ he said.

STEM subjects have also been hit by cuts affecting the continuing professional development of teachers, he added.

“A few years ago the UK had an excellent system of Science Learning Centres for STEM CPD, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Government. They had a proven track record of delivery yet were cut out of the budgets as no longer required. The current crisis is also a result of this rather shortsighted decision,” he said.

Professor Wilkins said the government has failed to address a teacher supply crisis “created almost entirely by Michael Gove's wilful refusal to take heed of overwhelming evidence from the UK and internationally about the most effective ways of recruiting, training and retaining a high quality professional workforce”.

The evidence demonstrated that the best teacher education takes place in equal partnerships between schools and universities, he said.

“The government's attempts to promote a 'school-led system' has ignored this, and instead has destabilised many highly effective partnerships, leading to falling recruitment across almost all subjects (with the greatest falls in STEM subjects) and lower retention rates in the profession.  The government's failure to listen and respond to compelling evidence about the cost-effectiveness of investing in high quality, sustained professional development for teachers represents a betrayal of the profession,” he said.

Professor Wilkins warned that unless the government is prepared to provide significant levels of support for professional development, the teacher supply crisis will worsen as the numbers leaving the profession early continues to rise and those that are left become increasingly demoralised.

“We cannot create a world-class education system with demoralised teachers, so the government needs, as a matter of urgency, to listen to, trust - and invest in - the profession.”

Professor Barstow said he had heard that at least two schools in Leicester are considering closing down physics A level classes because of a shortage of qualified teachers. Maths and computing is suffering a similar fate, he said.

“Given the importance of these subjects to the future economy, looming disaster is not too strong a term.”


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