The Nuffield Foundation has long been a champion for enabling all young people to study maths beyond the age of 16. Research we have funded has been influential both in demonstrating the comparatively low rates of participation in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and in developing ways to increase it. Most recently, this influence has been evident in the development of the new post-16 Core Maths qualification, and in the Smith Review of post-16 mathematics.
One of the most significant challenges in increasing participation is addressing the shortage of maths teachers, and we have been keen to understand more about the maths teaching workforce and issues relating to supply and retention. This report presents analysis of the ways in which schools have responded to the shortage, using the latest Schools Workforce Census (SWC).
The analysis presented in this report shows that in broad terms, schools deploy their more experienced maths teachers with the most relevant qualifications to teach year groups where the external stakes are high: GCSE, A-Level and GCSE retakes (Key Stages 4 and 5). This pattern is consistent across all schools, although those in disadvantaged areas are less likely to have teachers who fit this criteria, meaning that teacher shortages are having the biggest impact on pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
This deployment of more experienced teachers at Key Stage 5, while understandable, means that the shortage of maths teachers is being felt most keenly at Key Stage 3 (and to some degree Key Stage 4). At this age, young people’s attitudes to subjects and future study are crystallising. If maths teaching and learning is not as engaging or tuned to individual needs as might be desired there are significant risks of adverse effects on pupil outcomes and progression in those schools struggling to allocate specialist or experienced teachers for younger year groups.
We should also consider the implications of this analysis for increasing participation in post16 maths. We welcome the government’s new advanced maths premium policy, which aims to increase post-16 participation by offering financial incentives to schools. However, the potential impact on teachers should also be considered. Putting more pressure on those already teaching maths at Key Stage 5 may have implications for retaining some of the most experienced and qualified maths teachers. We would urge government, schools, and the wider education community to pay close attention to findings from the National Foundation for Educational Research study into the effect of retention and turnover on the teaching workforce. Also funded by Nuffield, several outputs from the study have already been published, showing that long working hours, increased pressure, and lack of options for parttime and flexible working are all barriers to improving teacher retention.
In considering the analysis presented in this report, it is important to echo the authors’ point about the limitations of the data it draws upon. While the SWC offers some satisfactory 6 indicators of teacher shortages in schools, it does not provide the fine-grained workforce data required to fully understand the extent of shortages, the approaches schools take to managing them, or their impact on student outcomes. This lack of adequate data means we are limited in the conclusions we can draw, but the authors’ make good suggestions for how we might collect more, useful data.