You can have a missionary’s zeal and cherry-pick policies from around the world – as Michael Gove has – but without enough of the right teachers to send to the front line, the Education Secretary’s revolution cannot succeed.
The Government identified the need to dramatically improve teaching of maths, sciences, engineering, computing and “boom” languages, to give British teenagers a chance against the graduates of education superpowers like Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland and Massachusetts. Mr Gove said: “I want to make sure that the children in our schools … are as well equipped as any child in the world in order to succeed.” Helpfully, Labour has found much common ground with the Coalition here.
The problem, as i’s Education Editor writes today, is that schools are struggling to attract enough teachers in these subjects: in maths, there’s a shortage of 700 trainees this year, nearly 400 in physics – and the pattern’s repeated elsewhere. With Mandarin, the predicted growth in demand from pupils has not happened because there’s no one to stand at the front of the class, the British Council says. Ditto the new computing curriculum. Incredible that we’re still debating whether Mandarin should be a mainstream subject.
Pay is a problem in the so-called “STEM” subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths), where the rival salaries on offer in the private sector – particularly as the jobs market begins to open up – prove alluring. But there is a prestige gap as well as a salary gap, I think. We still don’t hold teaching in high enough regard for it to prove an attractive career for the many.