Government announces specific physics teacher target

4 February 2011

In a letter to the Chief Executive of the Training and Development Agency for Schools, the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has asserted the need to provide a specific allocation for the training of 925 specialist physics teachers in 2011-12.

In contrast to recent years, when an overall allocation for the training of science teachers has been announced, this new target for teachers in each of the three main sciences will go some way towards redressing the serious issue of too few specialist physics teachers.

Professor Peter Main, director of education and science at the Institute of Physics (IOP), said, “With physics making up one-third of the science school timetable, an ideal situation would see one-third of all science teachers having a strong physics background. At present, only 19% of science teachers are specialists in physics, leaving many students gaining their first impression of physics from biologists and chemists, who may lack confidence in the subject. In fact, more than 500 schools across England don’t even have a single physics specialist on their staff.

“We’re delighted to see the Government recognise the need to specify the subject requirement, rather than bracketing all the sciences together.

“Our calculations show that to redress the balance between scientific subjects, we need to recruit around 1,000 new specialist physics teachers each year for 15 years. The Government’s target to recruit 925 trainees for 2011-12 is a major step in the right direction.

“To face the UK’s major challenges, from economic growth to health concerns and environmental threats, the UK needs a scientifically literate workforce. Physics is of utmost importance both in its own right and in underpinning other sciences and engineering.

“A strong physics teacher workforce will ensure that generations of students have the toolkit necessary for both them and the UK to thrive.”