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Where are all the maths teachers?

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by Elfrune, Dec 1, 2015.

  1. Elfrune

    Elfrune New commenter

    I have a department of 16 to staff. Over the last 5 years it has become increasingly difficult (exponentially so!) to fill vacancies. Talking to colleagues from other schools, it would appear the shortage of Mathematics teachers out there is at a critical level. Has it recently (last 5 years) always been like this (and I have been lucky to have a relatively stable department for a couple of years in the dim and distant past)? I now find myself responding to those agency 'I have an outstanding teacher' emails that pop up each day - why don't people email me if they want a job rather than going through an agency (again - is this now the done way of finding a job)? I am scared for the future of my department - due to a school restructure, they are giving slightly more time to teaching Mathematics (and English). This will be impossible to staff, let alone the pending tens of thousands of 'failing' level 4 students that will have to retake their Mathematics GCSE exam and pressures from SLT to offer more post-16 qualifications (which we have to keep numbers up for to balance the books). I'm scared the only remedy is stupid class sizes - anyone else worried - or am I just in a weird area of the country where one plays 'spot the Mathematics teacher - they are a rarity' (South East).
    Allen-Brown likes this.
  2. PaulDG

    PaulDG Occasional commenter

    I think a large number have decided they don't have to work in an environment where they will be under constant micro management or have to put up with pathetic 'leaders' who support misbehaving kids over decent adults.

    And, being numerate graduates, they have plenty of other career options.

    Firstly, it's likely the agency is lying.

    But secondly, perhaps if you advertised a job someone might actually want to do? One that didn't involve the micromanagement or being blamed for the poor behaviour of others, you actually might get a response.

    Perhaps if your own website spelled out a reasonable job description? If it didn't ask for "an outstanding teacher, capable of motivating the most objectionable year 8s in the universe, while performing the Happy Hat Dance", you might get some interest?

    The remedy is to change the job. Make it a job people with choices might actually want to do.
  3. David Getling

    David Getling Lead commenter

    Elfrune, here's part of the problem.

    I can teach any maths A-level module you care to throw at me, and do it very well. In fact, I currently enjoy a comfortable life doing private tutoring in maths, chemistry and physics. I don't try to dictate what my students will cover in each session because, unlike most so called tutors, I can handle anything they care to throw at me, in all three subjects, on the spur of the moment.

    However, occasionally I see a job advertised that might be worth getting out of bed for. My standard email to the school is to direct them to my website, where they can pick up CVs and learn all about me: like the fact that I've also published 3 maths books. I also tell them that I am NOT prepared to waste hours of my precious time filling in an application form.

    Of course, I never here back from the school, but it shouldn't be of course. The trouble is that schools only want cheap teachers displaying plenty of humility, that they can easily push around. Part of the shortage you are experiencing is directly due to schools' unwillingness to be flexible in their recruitment strategies, or to even consider teachers who exhibit much independence.

    I'm just laughing, all the way to the bank. The worse it gets the more students there will be knocking on my door. I don't need to get up before 8.00 or go out when the sun isn't shining.
    Joki81, donrickles, Aisha633 and 6 others like this.
  4. PaulDG

    PaulDG Occasional commenter

    David has a point.

    Of course we all know why schools want an application form filled in. It's because school application forms are coated with a special magic dust that glows bright red if handled by any person who could be a danger to children. (The special dust works with electronically completed forms too).

    But you'd think any sensible employer would be able to find other ways to test for this. Perhaps the magic dust could be applied to David's CV?

    Or doesn't the magic work that way?

    Does anyone honestly believe that making everyone fill in a form really makes any difference to the safety of kids?

    And, since I doubt any of us does, why do we persist in having people prove they can tick a box before applying?

    Perhaps when we do that, we are saying "welcome to a job where ticking the box is far more important than any subject knowledge you might have or in your ability to pass that knowledge on".

    And that could be precisely why there's a shortage of applicants.
    daddyorchips likes this.
  5. Maths_Shed

    Maths_Shed Occasional commenter

    Aside from the above, the government changed the emphasis of English and Maths with regard to the rating of the school, they are now more important than they were. So to maximize their rating, many schools have increased the number of hours that each student studies Maths and English often from three to four or even five lessons per week, this has all been done at the expense of other subjects. If all schools increased the maths lessons by one third, you need to increase the number of maths teachers by one third, this happened over a short period of time hence the sudden shortage. Schools with a bit of foresight will have recruited early and filled those vacancies with maths teachers leaving the rest to fill their positions with any teacher with an A-level in maths.
    donrickles likes this.
  6. m4thsdotcom

    m4thsdotcom Occasional commenter

    I still feel the selection process for teacher training is not getting the right candidates through the system in many cases.
    It's great to have the highly qualified mathematician who is also a great teacher but often for many schools and situations they just need great teachers.
    Although my views may not be popular, I feel too many great 'non specialists' are not getting the opportunity to develop themselves as maths teachers. These guys will be more than suitable in many cases when it comes to securing Level 5s (or whatever the goal is).
    You don't need a degree in maths to inspire and deliver at the lower/mid range IMO.
  7. googolplex

    googolplex Occasional commenter

    The OP's concerns are absolutely valid: it's surprising that more people haven't responded because this situation is exceptionally serious - yes, critical. Sadly, the DFE have their heads in the sand on this problem. I've taught for over 25 years, a substantial proportion as HoD and it's never been as bad as this.

    The reasons are complex. (David Getling needs to learn some humility - his 'I, me, mine' statements could have been taken from the lyrics of that Beatles track from their album 'Let it be'. Schools will rightly worry about any teacher who proclaims their brilliance whilst not having held down a job in a school for so long.)

    There may be some truth in Paul's expositions on behaviour although it isn't any worse, now, than it ever used to be. Managing classes goes with the job, always did, always will. Some are better at it than others and, whilst there's never a simple 'one size fits all' strategy to nail this one, getting it right - firm and fair - from the start with classes is crucial. Lack of parental support is worse and it is poor behaviour backed up by ignorant parents which is a real problem - that has become worse over the years. Teachers, good ones at that, do tire of the constant challenges to their authority as the weeks and years pass by.

    Paul is closer to the real crux of the matter with this 'micro-management' problem. The simple truth is that Ofsted runs a ridiculously punitive regime - we're all guilty until 'proven' innocent. That standard of 'proof' is a constantly changing business -'... we'll decide when you're good enough but we're not going to tell you how we decide: that's our little secret. Meanwhile, you're useless until we decide otherwise...' It's still far too dependent on the whims of individual inspectors poring over data which they don't truly understand, attaching far too much importance to silly measures involving statistically insignificant samples.

    The assessment system is also bizarre - this idea that we should be able to project the performance of each student at any instant onto some notional scale which itself keeps on changing, gaze into our crystal balls and predict their final grades accurate to the nearest third of a grade.

    The data regime has steadily eaten into the system, eroding confidence in our work and changing maths education from the pleasure of awakening interest and enthusiasm to a dull, knowledge-driven, bucket-filling exercise. It used to be great fun taking a class off at a tangent and exploring a question that had arisen. Nowadays, schemes of learning are micro-managed - here's your next lesson, you must use this rich task and that homework and mark it in this way making sure students respond to your marking, ensuring measurable learning happens.

    Too many very good teachers are sick and tired of the whole business and too few are interested in replacing them, all at a time when maths features more and more on the curriculum. The perfect storm... Moreover, whatever anyone says otherwise, schools are boring exam factories. Maths and English should be albeit important aspects of a much broader overall education. Now they eat into everything else. Students have more maths and less art, music and drama. Maths and English departments are despised by other teachers whose lessons are constantly undermined by requests for students to receive 'interventions'. There's a word we should all gladly kick into touch...

    Those other subjects, and the many other aspects of learning which underpin the richly diverse culture we live in are being lost at the hands of an accountability regime which has an unbelievably narrow focus. One day, people will look back on this age and realise how wrong our current system is, and how deeply damaging it is to our children's education.
  8. David Getling

    David Getling Lead commenter

    It's my teaching that kids benefit from, not my humility! Why is it that so many teachers are obsessed with others showing humility?

    If the shortage is so bad then one would think that any HOD with half a brain, who gave a damn about his/her students, would get someone claiming to be brilliant to give a few trial lessons. They might then find, to their annoyance, that the claim was true. And this being the case, they might, for the sake of their students, decide that getting a brilliant teacher was more important than getting a form filled in:D.

    I notice that the OP hasn't said any more. No doubt because he didn't like the uncomfortable truths that he was presented with.
  9. frustum

    frustum Star commenter

    David, whilst common sense and the HOD might agree with you, it's just not going to happen. The HR people will want a consistent set of documentation on file, and they're probably not going to allow any exceptions - partly out of fear that the time they do will be the time that an unsuccessful candidate sues for discrimination.

    I did once get to interview without having filled in a form (I hadn't, in fact, applied at all; it was too many hours for me, but they rang up and invited me to interview and were prepared to negotiate), but they did ask me to fill in a form and bring it with me.
  10. David Getling

    David Getling Lead commenter

    Sadly, Frustum, I understand your point only too well. When I were a lad, it was called a personnel department. The people who did the real work, and mattered, did the hiring. Personnel where then told that Smith was starting next Monday and to sort out his tax, pension, and which bank his salary was to be paid into. These departments were very small, and they knew their place. I'm not sure how the rot set in, though I suspect we can blame the Americans, but the personnel department, like a cancerous cell morphed into HR, which has grown like that insidious disease. Schools, and indeed most organisations, need to ask themselves who is running the show, and calling the shots. It most certainly shouldn't be the jumped up, talentless clerks that are in essence what HR people are.
  11. frustum

    frustum Star commenter

    I have friends who work in HR, and find that description rather insulting.

    Whilst we might agree about the way in which focus in all too many organisations has moved towards the adminstration rather than the core business, I don't think that justifies making rude and sweeping statements about people who are working hard at their jobs.
  12. pwc9000

    pwc9000 New commenter

    David once again takes the opportunity to bang his "not filling in an application form" drum. Once again ignoring why it is necessary - the LAW. You can argue till the cows come home about the rights or wrongs of it. It doesn't change the fact that it is the LAW.

    I have never interviewed David but I have interviewed & observed trial lessons of others with comparable backgrounds. Only once have they seemed worthy of appointing. Note I say seemed. I made a mistake. I shouldn't have appointed. This is, of course, not to say that this would be the case with David.

    It is a huge problem. I simply cannot appoint anyone of any quality to my large Maths dept in a secondary modern in the South East. It has been the case that the grammar schools in the area would snap up those that are around. I am beginning to hear that even they are beginning to struggle.

    The reasons are many and complex and have mostly been aired by others.
  13. Piranha

    Piranha Star commenter

    Yes, it is too much of a generalisation. When I was asked to take on a department with major problems in a bank, I received a lot of support from HR in turning things round. However, I hate the term HR. It makes it sound like people are resources to be treated as dispassionately as office furniture, which can be thrown out and replaced when it gets a bit old.
  14. David Getling

    David Getling Lead commenter

    No it isn't. Get your facts right!

    Doing an enhanced check and contacting the last place that someone worked with kids might be a legal requirement. But using an application form is merely a recommendation.

    So, with such a dire shortage, can you (or more importantly your students) afford to reject some like me out of hand. Did I employ a ghost writer for my books? Do students, from what are considered to be good (or even very good) schools come to me just so that I can pay my bills?

    From my own experience in industry, in many different companies, I stand by what I said about HR. When they just dealt with things like salary they fulfilled a useful role, but now they are interfering busybodies. To give just one example. The team I was working with wanted to employ someone who we all felt was very technically proficient and would fit in well. HR overruled us and burdened the team with someone who was lazy and incompetent.
  15. BillyBobJoe

    BillyBobJoe Lead commenter

    Neither tutoring nor writing books is whole class teaching.

    Now, you may be right and you're God's gift to teaching and it's a crime that whole cohorts of students have been deprived of your brilliance, but can you not see how it looks from the outside? An ounce of (even feigned) humility and willingness to work with people goes a long way. No-one is saying you have to be willing to kow-tow to every SLT diktat and slavishly file every bit of pointless tracking data, but filling in an application form is the work of a half hour at most and if your teaching brilliance is what you claim it's a small price to pay for a dead certainty of a job. If I had to guess, I'd say that as well as HR, you're coming up against a requirement to treat everyone in the same way in order to demonstrate a fair process. If some candidates are allowed to apply with CVs then what should be done about missing information or questions that have gone unanswered? Should the school then quiz the candidate on these, or maybe just bin all the applications that don't meet the criteria? How should schools demonstrate that they've acted fairly if they don't use a uniform process for everyone?
  16. Karvol

    Karvol Occasional commenter

    Seriously, everybody, I wouldn't bother. You are not going to convince David that he is wrong and David is not going to convince the schools that he is someone worth employing without filling in a form.

    Back to the original post.

    In my experience, forms etc. etc. are not a big deal. The overwhelming majority of teachers aren't bothered by them. I genuinely think that the quality of teachers has gone down and the number of available jobs has increased. If one is a mid-20 to 30 year old with no ties and a strong background in mathematics, the world is your oyster and there are plenty of jobs available. The explosion in the number of international schools means that moving around is very easy and the pay can be good.

    So what would be the incentive to stay in the UK?
    MathMan1 likes this.
  17. David Getling

    David Getling Lead commenter

    Maybe for you, which says that you are either very young or have only had one or two jobs. But for those of us who have lived more interesting lives, try multiplying that by 10.

    From what I hear from my students I would have to agree. My maths teacher would have been deeply ashamed if he couldn't have taught any topic brilliantly. Now it's very common to have maths teachers admit that they can't teach some areas (stats, mechanics, further maths) without feeling the least embarrassed. About a year ago I saw a cross against an answer of zero in my nephew's exercise book. On querying this I was told Miss said it was wrong unless we put minus zero.
    daddyorchips likes this.
  18. adamcreen

    adamcreen Occasional commenter

  19. David Getling

    David Getling Lead commenter

    But there is something wrong with my nephew's teacher's understanding of the concept of zero. Not too surprising as she is one of the Cheap First brigade, who I'm informed has a degree that isn't even vaguely maths related. But, Private Water Closet 9000 please note, she's probably very good at being humble and filling in application forms.
  20. Piranha

    Piranha Star commenter

    I suspect that we would have very few Maths teachers if we expected everybody to teach everything. Certainly those like me who came into teaching a long time after they had studied Maths would have no chance. - it takes a while to learn everything again, and I had emerged from university with little knowledge of Statistics and none of Decision. It is important that teachers have a very strong understanding of what they are teaching and something beyond it, but not all need to teach Further Maths.

    As for the minus zero comment, though, words fail me. I wonder if somebody had added a minus to the answer in the teacher's book!

    On the subject of application forms, it does seem crazy that there is not a standard format so that applicants can use the same one many times, changing the personal statement to fit the post. The information schools need must be pretty standard. However, I would have thought that a really good Maths teacher would only have to fill in one or two forms! Even 10 forms over a career only amounts to 5 hours - not a lot in a lifetime.

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