Science graduates say no to teaching

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The Independent Online
PHYSICS AND chemistry teachers with degrees in their own subjects are becoming an endangered species in state schools, according to a new study.

So few graduates in these subjects now choose teaching that most are likely to be mopped up by independent schools, says the research from the University of Liverpool.

Whereas most state schools teach double science (a combination of physics, chemistry and biology) at GCSE, many independent schools have retained courses in the three separate sciences.

The paper, prepared for the National Union of Teachers, shows that last year just 12 per cent of those recruited to one-year postgraduate teacher- training courses in science have physics degrees and only 17 per cent are chemistry graduates. In total, only 277 physics graduates were recruited to these courses in 1997.

Dr Pamela Robinson, who carried out the study with Professor Alan Smithers, said: "Very few state schools have the time or staff to teach three separate sciences. If you are a physics graduate you would be attracted to an independent school where you can teach your subject, where laboratory facilities are good and where you have a lab technician."

Postgraduate teacher-training courses recruit to "science", not to physics, chemistry and biology. "Teacher-training courses in science are being filled up by biologists. We are in a downward spiral. If we are not having good physics and chemistry teaching in state schools then we're not going to have physics and chemistry graduates who want to teach," Dr Robinson said. She questioned whether "golden hellos" for new maths and science teachers announced by the Government last week would prove more than a temporary attraction.

The paper suggests teaching is a second-choice profession. About one- fifth of primary trainees and a quarter of secondary ones either fail to qualify as teachers or drop out before they reach the classroom. In maths, where the recruitment crisis is worst and entrants tend to be poorly qualified, about 20 per cent fail and a further 10 per cent decide not to enter teaching.

Professor Smithers said: "We probably train as many teachers a year as we need but they don't all reach the classroom. There are as many teachers outside schools as within them."

The paper argues that independent schools do not have the same recruitment difficulties as state schools partly because salaries are higher but also because facilities are better, there is more back-up and fewer lessons to teach.

Its authors warn the Government about the dangers of introducing performance- related pay, which is expected to be proposed in a Green Paper next month.

"Although there may be some scope for targeting, this is not without its problems, for example, the potentially demotivating effect on teachers. In any case, it cannot be used in relation to some specific issues, for example, the severe under-recruitment of men in primary schools."

Teaching needs to be made more attractive, the paper argues, but "at the end of the day, there may be no substitute for a substantial rise in salary".