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Latest survey offers new understanding of the FE maths teacher workforce

By Nuffield Foundation

Building a high-quality maths teaching workforce in Further Education (FE) requires a better understanding of career pathways, differentiated high-quality initial training and more subject-specific professional development, new research shows.

The research, carried out by experts from the School of Education at the University of Nottingham, offers the most comprehensive view on the FE maths teacher workforce in England to date.

The survey is part of the Nuffield Foundation-funded Mathematics in Further Education Colleges (MiFEC) project that is investigating the complex challenges facing FE colleges as they try to deliver ambitious government policies in this critically important area.

The MiFEC team surveyed nearly 500 maths teachers in general FE colleges across England in the summer of 2018. The survey set out to answer two key questions: Who is teaching post-16 maths in FE? and What are the training and development needs of these teachers?

Routes into teaching maths at this level often differ from the traditional pathway into school teaching. The most common routes are from business, industry or self-employment, but transitions from teaching another subject in FE, or from teaching maths in school, are also common.

The survey shows that teaching maths in FE can be an attractive career choice or progression opportunity, for a wide variety of reasons. Around half of the respondents cited their personal enjoyment of the subject as one of their reasons to teach the subject at this level. Other reasons include ‘wanting to work with 16-18 year olds’ or to ‘move away from school teaching’.

Two-thirds of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with their current roles, but the numbers retiring or moving to other employment over the next few years are likely to exceed new entrants. The findings suggest that in the short-term there is some stability in the FE maths teacher workforce, but the long-term position is less certain.

Professor Andrew Noyes from the University of Nottingham:

“Better understanding of this important workforce will help to improve the recruitment of suitably qualified teachers, their initial training and the continuing professional development of the existing FE mathematics workforce.

“Decision-makers, managers and trainers need to pay more attention to the different pathways into FE teaching and their associated professional learning needs in order to build a teacher workforce able to deliver the Government’s ambitious educational vision and industrial strategy.”

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation said:

“Previous Nuffield Foundation funded work has shown that aspirations to improve England’s poor rates of post-16 participation in mathematics are likely to be severely hampered by limits to the capacity of the teaching workforce. Too little is known about the maths teaching workforce in the further education sector in which a significant proportion of young people continue their studies. 

“This new research offers valuable insight and a helpful starting point in building the evidence base on post-16 maths teachers, through the most comprehensive survey to date of this workforce. We look forward to the publication of the research team’s final report in 2019 which will bring together findings from this survey, and in depth case studies to provide recommendations for how to improve the capacity and quality of maths education in FE.”

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