A solution to the teacher shortage in mathematics

Written by: Tarun Kapur | Published:
Image: MA Education

With the shortage in maths teachers starting to bite, one academy trust has come up with its own innovative solution to ensuring a steady supply of maths specialists. Tarun Kapur explains

Ashton on Mersey School, a Teaching School at the heart of the Dean Trust family of schools, has only ever achieved “outstanding” status with Ofsted (five in total). It also runs a successful School Centred Initial Teacher Training programme (SCITT), with up to 100 students per year.

Results at GCSE are remarkable given that Ashton on Mersey School is technically a secondary modern working in the fully selective borough of Trafford. It achieved 65 per cent A* to C in English and maths (and 73 per cent in maths).

The Trust works across the areas of Trafford, Manchester and Knowsley. Ashton on Mersey School has, for the past 20 years, successfully educated all of the Manchester United young professionals, including Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, to name just two. The Dean Trust also leads and runs a Maths Hub in the North West.

In spite of these accolades and successes, the recruitment of maths teachers continues to be a key challenge. Only one candidate has enrolled on our secondary PGCE maths SCITT course for next year.

So we asked ourselves why look for something that currently seemingly doesn’t exist?

What we already have in all of our schools is a “pool” of great teachers whom the children love and respond to positively. With these teachers, neither the setting of homework nor engagement in learning are issues and they consistently achieve good outcomes for their pupils. Harnessing these teachers’ skills to create capacity in maths is one solution that we believe will prove to be successful.

Our work with other schools shows the amount of resource often wasted when attempting to recruit teachers of shortage subjects. Up to £5,000 for advertisements, often using agencies to place staff at around £3,000 and too many times this person does not live up to expectations for an “outstanding or good” school (with the “bar” rising at GCSE via the introduction of grades 9 to 1, and also the move to Progress and Attainment 8, we require our “big hitters” to deliver at key stage 4).

When a maths teacher leaves us there is a vacuum and a whole host of cover supervisors, supply teachers and the occasional deputy headteacher will sometimes fill in. This will not raise standards in the long term.

Interestingly, when discussing this issue with other headteachers, I hear that many are deploying other staff to fill the gaps too. But they all recognise that this is a temporary solution because they are not really investing heavily in those teachers, other than providing them with work schemes and model lesson plans. As such, the true understanding of the mathematical concepts is not always at the heart of the work.

This is understandable when everyone is under pressure to deliver results. But with the advent of cover teachers and cover supervisors, they are often placed in a position of having to deliver mathematics at both key stages and this often leads to low motivation and discontent among the parents.

Everyone is under so much pressure that we don’t always see the wood for the trees and the “sticking plaster” approach is prevalent.

Our solution with our own schools has been to properly “skill-up” good non-maths teachers who will have the tools to deliver from key stage 2 to 4 including at GCSE. If we are prepared to properly invest in our own teachers in a time of real austerity, we are ticking a number of boxes for both our pupils and our staff, rather than “dumbing down” the subjects and facing criticism that we are not employing mathematics teachers.

So we invest in our best non-maths specialists to give them another string to their bow. We have developed an intuitive online maths programme (working alongside a high-quality software provider) to retrain “good” teachers who have an interest in teaching maths.

This change of career path can actually enhance a member of staff in terms of their self-worth, promotion prospects and long-term viability – especially if they are currently in an oversubscribed subject.

These fantastic teachers who already have respect with the pupils will make maths a “cool” subject and if they are deployed in key stage 3 in the first instance, the motivation to do well will be in place ready for the important key stage 4 journey that pupils are embarking on.

This is not a quick fix and the “Mastery of Maths” techniques are important for the teacher to understand as well as the pupils. In essence the teacher cannot move on with our programme until they have mastered the basics.
Once this has happened they are able to learn how to teach through these mastery techniques following a set of prescribed programs, including videos and tutorials that also develop deep learning techniques.

The other conundrum we faced was how do we motivate staff to spend more than 100 hours learning outside of school without it being too much of an inconvenience. We tried to think about the staff who would be involved in the programme, many of them are young and used to using their phones and tablets to access their own social media and other apps.

So we worked with the software developers to ensure that teachers didn’t have to sit in front of a PC, rather they could complete parts of the programme using mobile devices wherever they so pleased.

Interestingly our trials reflected this and teachers were logging on to the system at all times of day to complete modules and it was obvious that it wasn’t always in front of a PC. The teachers also commented that the video resources in particular would certainly help them to create appropriate lessons for when they began to teach the subject.

The second innovation we looked at was providing on-going CPD for the teachers. For this we created an additional log-in for the head of mathematics, who is then able to monitor the progress of the teachers and where they see them struggling to master a topic they can step in and offer tailored additional support.

Without this, the teacher may not seek help or may believe that the head of department is too busy to help them. So this is a targeted approach and one that saves on time and energy.

The programme we have developed in conjunction with the software provider is called eMaths Master and it now allows a user to follow 12 steps in maths sequentially to ensure “mastery” is achieved with 1,500 animated videos and around 2,500 competency based assessments.

Once mastered, the teacher will be given a sophisticated tutorial on how to teach that module/subject and experience deep learning. The teacher will also be left with a teaching resource to support them in the classroom.

What is clear is that our “mastery” programme is not attempting to replace mathematicians who have a degree, but rather create much needed capacity in the system to tackle a teacher shortage problem that will not solve itself in the next five years given the current recruitment crisis.

The recent figures showing that almost a third of teachers are leaving the profession within five years of starting as NQTs are quite depressing and therefore we need to do everything we can to improve the system from within, rather than relying on or hoping for a miracle!

  • Tarun Kapur is chief executive and academy principal with the Dean Trust.

Further information

The eMaths Master initiative is now being made available to other schools. For details, visit
http://emathsmaster.co.uk/


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