Maths teacher shortage leaves weak pupils adrift

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The Independent Online

Staff shortages are hampering efforts to improve maths standards in half of the country's secondary schools, inspectors said yesterday.

Staff shortages are hampering efforts to improve maths standards in half of the country's secondary schools, inspectors said yesterday.

The findings emerged in a survey by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, of schools piloting the Government's flagship scheme for raising standards in the secondary sector. Tony Blair indicated at the election that the plan would be the main thrust of his education policy for his second term.

But the report says the recruitment and retention of staff has proved a crucial factor in the overall failure of the schools to make progress with 90 per cent of their weakest pupils, a finding that the report describes as "very disappointing".

A main plank of the strategy was the introduction of progress tests at the age of 12 in maths and English for pupils who failed national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds at primary school. But only one in 10 who failed at 11 was passing the maths tests after a year in secondary school, the study says, whereas 25 per cent had begun to pass in English.

The worst lessons the inspectors surveyed were "more often than not" taken by non-specialist staff, the report says. "Very few schools had established a 'catch-up' programme that took account of the particular weaknesses their pupils displayed," it says.

Overall, however, the inspectors found the strategy – now extended to all secondary schools – had improved standards in five out of six schools.

Damian Green, the Conservatives' Education spokesman, said that the report had "two worrying features.

"Firstly, the shortage of maths teachers is hampering efforts to improve performance," he said. "Secondly, the strategy has been found to be less effective for students with lower abilities.

"Once again this shows that the Government's complacency over teacher numbers is misplaced. In the key subject of maths, even a flagship policy like this is being undermined because too many teachers are leaving the profession early."

Mike Tomlinson, the chief inspector of schools, said: "Secondary schools need to build more effectively on pupils' achievements in primary schools and more attention needs to be given to the progress of those pupils entering secondary schools who are achieving below the expected level."

Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, said: "There are no simple answers or quick fixes." But the progress made showed the plan has "the potential ... to make a big difference" to pupils aged 11 to 14, she said.

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