Where are the Physics teachers? It’s a pertinent question and one that, through current experience, is tremendously worrying. I work in a fantastic school with an exceptional Physics department. We have 70 students across A-level; three sets of AS and two sets of A2. Myself and my colleague, who is leaving, are the only two that can teach A-level. We’re obviously in need to recruit, but our adverts have not been successful. We haven’t found a suitable applicant. The same is happening at other local schools, great schools, who just cannot recruit a Physics teacher. The Institute of Physics has previously suggested that we need 1000 new Physics teachers each year in order to reach parity with the number of Biology and Chemistry teachers. In 2009 the number of new graduate Physics teachers wasn’t breaking even the number of those leaving the profession.
Where are all the Physics teachers and what are the implications of this lack of availability?
Physics graduates are at an absolute premium, with figures showing that graduates in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are well short of the target numbers expected. Half of all Physics teachers leave their jobs within 5 years. Trainee teachers, in general, who start a Postgraduate Certificate in Education course often don’t even complete it. With fewer graduate numbers, it’s not really a surprise that we have a shortage of teachers. This is particularly noticeable in Physics because of how valuable these graduates can be in fields such as finance, telecommunications and IT. Who can blame them? Teaching is a career that is constantly being attacked by the Government resulting in miserably low morale amongst those in the profession. This can only have a negative impact on how teaching is perceived.
The most disappointing implication of the shortage is the effect on the teaching of our students. Figures show that large numbers of Physics teachers don’t have a degree in the subject. Surely that can’t be what will happen at our school? This can create issues further down in the school in trying to produce the best possible Physics students starting at Key Stage 3 and at GCSE. So often people – ourselves included – cite an inspirational teacher as one of their reasons for pursuing a subject further. This could be lost in many respects for Physics.
I sent a letter to The Times which they published today. Here is their edited version:
“Sir, Where are the physics teachers? We are a fantastic state school in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire. Ofsted has consistently rated us good with many outstanding features. Until the Government removed the specialist schools budget we were both a science and a performing arts specialist school. Our science department is popular, with at least 40 per cent of our year-12 students taking AS biology and over a third of them taking AS chemistry and AS physics.
One of our three physics teachers is leavnig. Our adverts for a new physics teacher have not drawn a suitable applicant. What can we do? The Institute of Physics offers £20,000 training scholarship incentives to new graduates. Physics is considered one of the priority subjects by the Government. Graduates receive huge bursaries simply to train. Yet a 2009 survey suggests that four of ten students on any Postgraduate Certificate in Education course don’t even become teachers. Between 35 and 45 per cent of all physics teachers are without a degree in the subject. The National STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Centre suggests that half of all new physics teachers leave within 4 and a half years. According to a report from the Social Market Foundation, there is a shortfall of 40,000 science, technology, engineering and maths graduates.
We need more physics teachers.
DREW THOMSON, Head of Physics
GORDON GENTRY, Deputy Headmaster,
It is a considerable problem, and something that needs to be carefully addressed. We are offering all sorts of financial incentives to draw graduates into teaching, but it is clearly not working well for Physics. We need more of our students to go on and study Physics, and other related subjects, and we need more of these graduates to come into the fantastic career that is teaching.
Some reading material: