16 January 2016

Worries

A Twitter conversation about recruitment this week got me worrying. I went to bed that night feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders.

Being a maths teacher is wonderful, and if you ever doubt that then read Ed Southall's post 10 reasons why it's a great time to be a maths teacher. But it is the best of times and the worst of times. Let me tell you some of the things that are on my mind...

1. Recruitment
Undoubtedly the biggest challenge we face is a dire shortage of maths teachers. I don't trust any data in education so let's take a quick look at the anecdotal evidence. Have you seen the huge number of maths teacher vacancies being advertised on TES this week? That number is set to increase dramatically over the coming weeks as schools desperately try to win the race to recruit trainee teachers.

My school is planning to significantly increase the number of maths lessons for our students at both Key Stage 3 and 4 from September. This, coupled with the ever increasing uptake of maths at Key Stage 5, means that my school will be looking to recruit at least two new maths teachers over the coming year. Other schools are in the same position. This continued increasing demand against a backdrop of diminishing supply is a very serious concern.
The competition for maths teachers is fierce. There aren't enough of us to go round. Across the country, a whole generation of students will suffer dreadfully. I wrote about this in Schools Week last December and the situation has only worsened since then. Teachers are being driven out of the profession by utterly unsustainable workloads and we are simply unable to replace them.

What will happen if we can't fill our vacancies? Initially we will see an increase in class sizes. As most classrooms don't have the desk space for more than 34 students, this will have the greatest impact on low attainers whose classes may well double in size. Eventually we will start to see an absence of teachers in the classroom, with online delivery of content perhaps being the only option. This is hardly conducive to a good education. I strongly suspect that we will lose the 'global race' that the Government cares so much about.

One final thought regarding recruitment. School budgets are ridiculously tight - the financial situation horrifies me. Every spare penny should be spent on our students, not on extortionate fees for job adverts. Schools are spending serious amounts of money advertising for maths teachers for weeks on end. Precious education budget is sitting in the pockets of the TES. How very frustrating.

2. Curriculum Changes
Changes to the maths curriculum are coming thick and fast and it's down to teachers to try to make sense of huge amounts of information and mixed messages.

The new GCSE is going to be very challenging for the vast majority of students. Our current Year 10s are guinea pigs. At Year 10 Parents Evening this week I had to admit to parents that I wasn't entirely sure about gradings - my predictions are based on vague hunches rather than experience. Maths teachers are in the dark. And we're competing against each other for the top grades.
I'm doing all I possibly can to make sure I know the new specification, but it's much harder than it should be. The workload is huge. The process of implementing this new qualification has not run smoothly and we can only hope that the implementation of the new A level qualifications is a better experience for both teachers and students.

Another thing that worries me is the new Foundation GCSE. It contains topics that are in no way appropriate or necessary for Foundation students. Even more worrying though is that fact that so many more students will now sit Foundation papers when previously they would have been entered for the Higher Tier. I hate the low expectations associated with saying 'it is impossible for you to achieve higher than a Grade 5'. And at the same time many of the students who find maths difficult are in classes with badly behaved peers who hold them back even further. It breaks my heart.

Finally, the thinking behind the new Key Stage 2 resits is flawed in many ways. Mel sums up her concerns brilliantly in her post Year 7 resits ... genius idea. This is another poorly thought out policy that may end up being detrimental to both students and teachers. Yet another thing to worry about.

Solutions?
There's a simple long-term solution to many of these problems. Reduce contact time. If teachers spent less time in front of students then they would have the opportunity to plan effectively, mark well, collaborate with colleagues, implement new policies, enhance their subject knowledge and learn from best practice. The quality of maths education would improve and at the same time, recruitment and retention problems would diminish. The current workload is killing us. But how can the Government fix this? Reducing contact time across the board would require vast amounts of money and vast numbers of new teachers. Either that or less children... It's an impossible situation. This is what keeps me up at night. This is why I worry.


I must end this post on a positive note. I am a worrier, but I am also an optimist. I love being a maths teacher. I'm doing something really important. Fellow maths teachers, when faced with challenging times, do not turn your back on the profession - generations of children need you! Maths needs you! I need you! This is important, let's not give up. But let's support each other when things get tough and do everything we possibly can, in our own schools and our own classrooms, to make the very best of what we've got.




9 comments:

  1. I agree completely with the views put forward. The continued difficulty is staff leaving the profession. The job is already a challenging one. When we are short staffed we continue with larger classes, earlier starts to sort cover work (covered by non specialists often - but then many "maths" teachers do not have a maths degree), later finishes to complete intervention with students who have not made sufficient progress during lesson time. This can lead to a greater drop out of the profession. There is no allowance made for staffing issues with student outcomes and nor should there be; each child deserves to leave school having had a decent experience. However I struggle with why classroom teachers/HODs are accountable. This should be pushed back to those who have caused this issue - and in my mind that is the politicians who have played political football with our education system. I am comfortable to raise expectations. I am comfortable with change to improve outcomes. But we need time to embed changes so they have a positive impact. I feel desperately sad that the profession is reaching crisis point, and in maths we have been there for a while. I have considered leaving, and gone part time in a desperate hope this means I can have a life balanced with work. For me (and ALL other teachers I know) it has never been about money and pay. It has always been about working conditions. Always. We want the best for our students and we work twice as hard to overcome the poor decisions pushed upon us. It's not sustainable as we are now sadly seeing.

    Apologies Jo for the long comment!

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    1. Thanks for your comment - I totally agree. Good point about the shortages causing increased workload eg setting cover work etc.

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  2. Starting to notice anecdotal evidence from tutees about teachers leaving, endless supply teachers.

    I'm the kind of person they need. Years of experience, always wanted to be a teacher but never going back.

    I tweeted about this last week. The Government needs to run a central website which has all the jobs on, for as long the schools need to leave them up, free of charge. How much would it cost to run and administrate? Not a lot. Save millions. And also probably do a better job of matching people if the schools aren't panicking into grabbing the first candidate with a pulse.

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    1. This is an excellent idea. Makes so much more sense.

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  3. I have been searching for a local part-time maths post since October and all of the vacancies I have seen so far are either full-time, temporary or agencies.

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    1. I'm pretty sure that if you contacted schools directly they'd be willing to take you on part-time. I'm a part-timer myself and I know it used to be hard to get a part-time jobs but schools can't afford to be so picky now. My school would definitely be happy to recruit any good maths teacher and would accommodate any working pattern (come and work with me!).

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    2. Thanks Jo, that's probably what I will end up doing.

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  4. It's interesting comparing the dynamics of shortages in the public & private sector. In the private sector if there was high demand then market forces would self-correct this with better terms & conditions and more people would retrain to be maths/physics teachers.

    As it's the public sector the government are in denial and want to save face so nothing changes. The increasing workload (from the curriculum changes etc) causes feedback loops where increased workloads force more to leave the profession.

    Eventually something will have to give - you dont have to spend long looking at population predictions to see how bad this will be in 2018-2020. The other problem is the biggest voting block in this country is over 50s. Their children have grown up and so schooling is not a priority for them anymore so I don't see the money required to get the extra qualified teachers coming.

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