Physics teacher recruitment at 30-year-high

14 July 2011

The Schools Minister, Lords, MPs and 140 new teachers, will be joining the Institute of Physics (IOP) tonight to celebrate the number of specialist physics teachers now joining the profession.

Last year saw approximately 600 graduates enter training to teach physics, a significant improvement on years past when, at its worst in 1998, fewer than 200 new trainees were being recruited each year.

In advance of attendance at this evening’s event, Schools Minister Nick Gibb said, “It is crucial to the economic future of the country that we encourage more young people to study sciences at all levels and good teaching is critical to achieving that.

“Whilst this year’s teacher trainee applications to physics courses are higher than at any point in the last four years, we still have a lot of work to do to ensure a steady supply of high quality physics graduates entering teaching. That is why in our Initial Teaching Training Strategy published last month we set out our plans to attract top physics graduates into teaching, including offering bursaries of up to £20,000.

“We welcome the Institute of Physics’ new programme and will continue to work with them to improve the quality of science education in this country, so that it is comparable with the best in the world.”

Professor Peter Main, director of education and science at IOP, said, “The drive for new recruits to teach physics has received support at all levels, from science departments in schools to government ministers.  With the right support mechanisms for new recruits and a long-term commitment from the Government to address the crisis, we can look forward to a future in which students will be taught this important subject by knowledgeable, confident and enthusiastic teachers.”

Over 140 newly qualified teachers (NQTs) from around the country will be convening in the House of Commons to meet politicians and senior education experts to celebrate the turning tide in physics teacher recruitment, and to help launch a new teacher-support programme from the IOP called ‘Learning to Teach Physics’.

The shortage of specialist physics teachers has been identified by businesses, politicians and learned societies, including the Royal Society and IOP, as a fundamental hurdle in the drive to overcome the UK’s skills shortage.

Severe under-recruitment of specialist physics teachers has left 500 maintained schools in England without a specialist physics teacher; many school students across England gain their first impression of this strategically important subject from biologists and chemists, who often lack the confidence and enthusiasm that a specialist teacher provides.

In 2010, 600 graduates entered training to learn to teach physics and all indications suggest that the upward trend will continue, not least thanks to the government establishing a separate target of 925 new specialist trainee physics teachers in 2011. 

Compounding the issue of recruitment to the profession is the low retention rate which currently sees approximately half of all new physics teachers leave the profession within five years of teaching.

To address the problem of retention, IOP, in partnership with the Gatsby Foundation, is launching ‘Learning to Teach Physics’, a suite of teaching materials and resources aimed at supporting newly qualified teachers of science.

The parliamentary reception follows the IOP’s first ever conference for newly qualified science teachers. The event was over-subscribed, with all 160 places taken in the first four days, underlining the need to support new teachers of physics.

You can follow the NQT conference and evening reception on Twitter using #teachphysics.

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