Maths and physics are enjoying something of a renaissance in terms of popularity among A-level students.
According to the 2011 A-level trend report the proportion of those opting for maths has almost doubled, while physics uptake is at a five-year high.
However, while demand from students is rising, the supply of teachers needs to be higher, which means now is a great time for those with maths and physics skills to train to teach.
“We want to attract the most able graduates to train to teach in priority subjects like maths and physics,” says Lin Hinnigan, chief executive at the Teaching Agency. “Good quality teachers in these subjects make a real difference to children’s learning and achievement and are key to our future economic prosperity.”
Creating a generation which approaches maths and physics with confidence is vital because the subjects themselves are important to the world at large. Shoyeb Memon, who teaches maths at Coventry’s Bablake school, points out that “without maths, no other subject would exist! New ideas and technologies are emerging so swiftly that we need new specialist teachers with current and fresh techniques.”
The Institute of Physics (IoP) recognises the same issue, according to Professor Peter Main, Director of Education and Science. “Physics is a marvellous combination of genuinely challenging and mind boggling questions, and is the underpinning science for a great deal of technology.” He adds that, although a great deal is spent on outreach and extra-curricular activities, “the evidence shows that a prime factor in enthusing and encouraging physics students is their teacher.”
For anyone thinking of following the route into teaching maths and physics, there’s plenty of help and support available.
“I’d urge anyone thinking about becoming a teacher to begin the application process today by looking at the ‘get into teaching’ section of the Department for Education’s website,” says Hinnigan. “There is a comprehensive programme of support available from the Teaching Agency to help you and large tax-free bursaries and scholarships for high quality graduates, especially in shortage subjects.” A ‘large’ tax-free bursary is no understatement: top candidates are eligible for up to £20,000 to help cover their training costs. There’s also an Institute of Physics scholarship for physics candidates of up to £20,000.
Support goes beyond the financial. In addition to the Teaching Agency's existing services, such as the Teaching Information Line (0800 389 2500) and social media outlets, including Facebook and Twitter (@getintoteaching), there’s the Premier Plus service. It’s available to those wishing to teach shortage subjects such as maths and physics who hold (or are predicted) a 2:2 degree or higher and offers one-to-one support from advisers and access to Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) courses, among other things.
This kind of assistance certainly helped Lara Pattison, who will begin her training to become a physics teacher in September.
“Everyone was really supportive, I couldn’t believe how warm and inviting universities were. There was also the bursary: I could never have afforded to train otherwise. I get £20,000 to teach physics and I’m going to do an enhancement course, which is also funded.”
Add the new physics with maths PGCE into the mix, which has been created as a partnership between the Teaching Agency and the Institute of Physics, and there are clearly plenty of ways to get involved.
And the benefits don’t stop with training with nine out of 10 new teachers who want to teach currently finding a job within the first twelve months.
Case study: Jess Laffoley
Jess Laffoley teaches Maths at Comberton Village College in Cambridge. She has a BSc in Mathematics with Music from Southampton university, did a PGCE in Secondary Mathematics at Cambridge and has been teaching since September 2011.
“Teaching was something I’d always had an interest in. When I was an undergraduate I spent three weeks in a school, which made me think ‘I’d really like to do this’. I loved my PGCE year and loved my training, being around people who have a great understanding of maths. I felt very supported.
“I always liked maths at school. I was good at it and I think that brings out a certain level of enjoyment. I found the final year of my degree quite tough but, when I went into the school, I suddenly started seeing things I’d never seen before. Not only did my knowledge grow, from making connections I’d never made before, but my enjoyment increased as well. It’s a logical, connected subject and I really enjoy linking up ideas and solving puzzles.
“The challenge of teaching is that it’s very time-consuming. You enjoy it, but it does take a lot of time.
“I had a few boring office jobs at which I clock-watched, but I never do that with teaching. The real benefit is the diversity and that I have a lot of control over what my day will be like.
“I’m happy in the classroom and there’s lots I can do to progress. Next year I’m going to finish off a Masters qualification; with the Cambridge PGCE you do half of it when you train and can complete a thesis once you’re qualified.
“So far it’s been good, it’s been what I expected. I’m pretty tired, but that’s what the holidays are for: catching up on your sleep!
“I’m at the stage where I know my classes really well, and it’s really nice.”
My first day
Chris Handley teaches science.
“The first lesson was one of the scariest things I’ve done. The lab felt about five times bigger with five times as many people in it. I soon settled in – getting in there and doing it was what I needed.
“The lesson went OK, the class was really well behaved and they were willing me to do well, which was a good confidence boost. The biggest difference now from then is that I’m better at managing my time.
“For anyone teaching their first lesson, I’d say: the more you practice, the better you get at managing situations.
“That’s how you learn. No-one expects you to be perfect!”