The UK maths teacher market is under strain from increasing student numbers on the one hand, and shortages of teachers on the other. Only half of trainee maths teachers stay in the job for 5 years and only around half of maths teachers have a relevant degree. We explore the problem, a possible cause, effects on students and attempts to address the shortage.
The UK teacher labour market can be characterised by two supply-side problems: recruitment and retention. These issues are particularly salient in maths and science subjects. Strikingly, according to a 2020 report by the Education Policy Institute, only 50 per cent of maths and physics trainee teachers remain in their post 5 years after graduating.1
There also pressures on the demand side: natural bulges in school-aged populations are increasing pupil numbers. Between 2016 and 2019, there was a 5 per cent decrease in the number of secondary school teachers and concomitantly a 7 per cent increase in pupil numbers.1 There is no sign of this demand side pressure easing, with secondary school pupil numbers expected to be 10 per cent greater in 2023 than in 2019.1 Furthermore, the introduction of government legislation requiring students
A reason why?
One reason why shortages are particularly severe in maths and science subjects is that maths and science graduates command, in general, a higher salary outside of teaching than graduates of arts, history and English.1 For instance, on average, male maths teachers earn £3,200 less than maths graduates in general, 5 years after graduation. By contrast, male teachers who studied English earn £8,300 more than median earnings for all English graduates 5 years after graduation. These differences are also visible with the earnings for female graduates and teachers, although they are smaller. Consequently, it is no surprise that attracting the best maths graduates towards teaching can be relatively challenging. The table below shows how median earnings 5 years after graduation compare to the median earnings of teachers 5 years after graduation for some common secondary school subjects:2
Effects on students
Worryingly, teacher shortages are also more severe in socially disadvantaged areas.Excluding London, around half (51 per cent) of Key Stage 4 maths hours are taught by teachers with a relevant degree in the least disadvantaged schools outside, but only 37 per cent of hours are taught by someone with a relevant degree in the most disadvantaged schools.1 This difference is statistically significant and highlights the need to incentivise qualified teachers in the most deprived areas.
Maths teacher shortages not only impact on the inter-school allocation, but also the intra school allocation of teachers with degrees in the subject they teach. A 2018 report by the Nuffield Foundation found that where maths teachers are inexperienced or do not have a degree in the subject, they were most likely to be allocated to teaching KS3.3 Whilst this may cushion the impact from teacher shortages for GCSE and A Level students, it is likely to be storing up issues for the future and may mean KS3 students are under-prepared for starting the GCSE curriculum, particularly where teacher shortages are most acute.
In order to address teacher shortages, the government has committed to:
- increasing starting salaries for teachers to £30,000 by September 2022. This represents an increase of nearly £6000 on current starting salaries outside London.4
- cash incentives for teachers in shortage subjects at state-funded secondary schools. The government is currently offering £2,000 to qualified early career maths and physics teachers in some areas most affected by shortages (including the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber).5
We believe the EdTech sector also has a role to play in addressing teacher shortages. By reducing teacher time spent marking, teachers are more available for time in front of their students. What’s more, easing the teacher workload may feed in to making maths teaching a more appealing career choice for new graduates.
1Education Policy Institute, 2020. Teacher Shortages In England. [online] Available at: (https://epi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Teacher-shortages-and-pay_2020_EPI.pdf) [Accessed 6 July 2020].
2Department for Education, Graduate Outcomes (LEO): 2016–17 (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/graduate-outcomes-leo-outcomes-in-2016-to-2017). School Workforce Census, November 2016.
3 Nuffield Foundation, 2018. How Do Shortages Of Maths Teachers Affect The Within-School Allocation Of Maths Teachers To Pupils?. [online] Available at: <https://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Within-school-allocations-of-maths-teachers-to-pupils_v_FINAL.pdf> [Accessed 6 July 2020].
4 GOV.UK. 2019. £30,000 Starting Salaries Proposed For Teachers. [online] Available at: <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/30000-starting-salaries-proposed-for-teachers> [Accessed 6 July 2020].
5 GOV.UK. 2019. Cash Incentives For Maths And Physics Teachers. [online] Available at: <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cash-incentives-for-maths-and-physics-teachers> [Accessed 6 July 2020].