June 14, 2003
The maths isn't adding up

More news of the shortage of people willing to be teachers from the Independent. Maths teacher Stephen McCormack (his title is "Can you find the teachers to sack?" - lovely) writes:

Pupils need to build on relationships with their teachers. If these are absent, the effect on learning and behaviour is marked. This, for me, is where successive governments have failed in the long-term development of adolescents.

It would be bad enough if confined to poor and crumbling inner city housing estates, but it is not. Take Surrey: an affluent county with stable schools and academic tranquillity? Not so. Surrey's turnover rate is the highest in the country.

The current drive to do something in London might have its good points but it will undoubtedly make things worse in the surrounding counties. I am not saying that nothing is being done. One area where there has been a clear improvement is in the numbers attracted to teacher training. Applicants for places on PGCE courses are up, due in part to the bursaries on offer. But it's no good recruiting and training teachers if they don't stay to do the job.

Three years ago I was one of 13 idealistic people starting a maths PGCE course at a London college. Only seven of us will still be teaching in or near London this September. Of the rest, three have dropped out, two have left the UK and one has gone to teach in Devon. Not all schools face these problems. I could also point to numerous schools where turnover is low, and where most vacancies attract enough candidates. Fine. But that doesn't alter the fact that thousands of children are getting a raw deal because of our inability to get staffing right.

McCormack still thinks in terms of failure by "successive governments", rather than by the very idea of government, and says that in France things are done much better, and maybe that's so. But the story I hear is that things there aren't getting any better either.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:15 AM
Category: MathsSovietisation