If we want maths teachers, we must reward them

A shift towards training teachers at the chalk face, rather than in institutions, has cut the number of top-calibre recruits, according to some experts

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It was perhaps to be expected that – once the economic situation eased – public services would start to find it more difficult to recruit staff. And today’s figures on teacher training show just that. Potential candidates – particularly in areas such as maths and science – are seeing financially rewarding jobs in the private sector for the first time in years, with the result that teaching is just not as attractive as it was.

But that is not all. A shift towards training teachers at the chalk face, rather than in institutions, has also cut the number of top-calibre recruits, according to some experts. It can only be hoped that Brian Lightman, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, is right when he says that headteachers’ latest recruitment troubles could be down to teething problems – a lack of awareness of the new routes into the profession, say – rather than students’ unwillingness to leave the training college. There is, after all, no better preparation for teaching than learning about it on the job.

Today’s figures present the Coalition with a clear dilemma. What can a school do if it cannot recruit enough staff to teach vital subjects like maths and science? One easy answer, particularly for a Government inclined towards the beneficial effects of market forces, would be to raise the offered salary. In fact, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has given schools more freedom to determine pay and conditions for their staff – which opens the door to higher bids for teachers of shortage subjects and, ultimately, different pay for different subjects across the board. The wrinkle here is a practical, rather than an ideological one. How can schools pay more for anyone, given the restricted education budget and the overall squeeze on public sector pay?

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