Teacher shortage threat to physics

The teaching of physics in England's schools is under threat because of a growing lack of specialist teachers, a report warned today.

Applications to physics teacher training courses have dropped by 27 per cent in the last year, according to a study published by academics at the University of Buckingham.

And it said 26 per cent more physics teachers were retiring or leaving the profession than were being recruited, with 24 per cent of state schools no longer having a specialist in the subject.

From September, any child who performs well in tests for 14-year-olds will be entitled to study physics as an individual subject.

But the report questioned whether schools would be able to deliver this entitlement.

It also cast doubt over whether the Government's target for a quarter of science teachers to be physics specialists by 2014 would be met.

Analysis of the Graduate Teacher Training Registry suggests that while 30 per cent of science teacher trainees in 1983 were physics specialists, by 2007, that figure was just 12 per cent.

Report author Dr Pamela Robinson said: "It is difficult to be sure whether the government is on course to recruit enough physics teachers because it is working to a long-term target which is hard to pin down and is relying on shaky data."

The report claims it is possible to predict, with 84 per cent accuracy, which schools still have specialists.

Those with sixth forms, or high achieving pupils, were much more likely to have specialist physics teachers, while in those without, about two in five schools will not.

Independent schools are most likely to have the cream of physics trainees. In 2005-06, 22 per cent of those recruited to independent schools had firsts, compared with 13 per cent going to the state sector.

Inner city schools are the worst off, with around a half now having general science teachers rather than subject specialists.

In contrast, in the West Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber around 10 per cent do not have any physics specialists.

The report, which is based on analysis of national statistics and specially conducted surveys, conflicts with recent statistics from the Training and Development Agency for Schools, which shows an increase in physics trainees.

But the report authors says this may be because teacher training courses are re-classifying general science trainees as physics trainees in return for a £1,000 premium.

It makes a number of recommendations including a call for physics teaching to be made more attractive by restoring its separate identity as a subject.

It also suggests that the deployment of existing teachers can be improved by encouraging sixth form and further education colleges to work with 11-16 schools to ensure specialists are available to teach pupils as they move up through the schools.