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Triple science and maths teachers, says report

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Wednesday 07 July 2010 00:00 BST

The number of science specialists teaching in primary schools needs to be tripled, ministers have been told.

A report by the Royal Society on the state of maths and science education for five to 14-year-olds, published today, warns that children are put off pursuing the subjects because of poor teaching.

It reveals that there are only 5,989 specialist science teachers and 3,903 maths experts covering the 17,000 primary schools in England.

"Teachers are the most important factor in determining the quality of education children receive and their attainment," it says. It adds that many primary school teachers "lack confidence in teaching science and mathematics and that children are being 'switched off' these subjects at secondary school".

This is "quite probably because of inadequacies in conceptual understanding [of the two subjects] that become exposed in post-primary education".

It adds that children are also put off by rigid testing and assessment which leaves them little time to enjoy the subjects or conduct science experiments.

"The pressures on teachers and schools have been so great that much classroom time has been dedicated to drumming the required 'facts' into pupils' heads.

"This has inevitably stifled creative and innovative approaches to teaching and learning science and mathematics and severely limited children's experiences of these subjects.

"Indeed, various studies have recorded that many children are switched off science and mathematics following transfer into secondary education and it is very probable this is irreversible."

The report recommends each primary school should have a specialist science teacher – and adds that it should scrap tests in the two subjects at 11.

Professor John Holman, head of the National Science Learning Centre, said: "We welcome the Royal Society's proposal to treble the number of primary school science specialists. Every primary school should have at least one teacher specialised in science teaching – and similarly for maths teaching.

"Currently only a tiny fraction of practising primary school teachers have a specialist science degree and initial teacher training qualifications in science – just 3 per cent for science and 2 per cent for mathematics."

Meanwhile, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, announced a review of National Curriculum tests for 11-year-olds, as it emerged that 4,005 schools – 26 per cent of the total – boycotted this summer's maths and English papers.

Mr Gove admitted: "I do accept there are flaws with the current testing system." He said he was willing to work with headteachers and teachers to reach agreement on how they could be improved, but he added that the tests would go ahead next year.

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