Subject specialist teaching in the sciences: definitions, targets and data

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1 Subject specialist teaching in the sciences: definitions, targets and data

2 1. OVERVIEW 1. The SCORE member organisations have considered three issues related to specialist teaching in the school sciences (biology, chemistry and physics), with a view to obtaining a more precise estimate of the number of specialist teachers working in these subjects. A more precise estimate will help towards addressing the current imbalance of specialist teachers in the sciences in maintained sector schools and towards gathering robust evidence on how subject specialism impacts on teaching and learning. 2. This briefing paper sets out a number of recommendations to support subject specialist teaching in the sciences. The paper: Proposes definitions of subject specialism the importance of clear, agreed and meaningful definitions of what is meant by subject specialism within the sciences. Shows how such definitions should be used to determine subject specialist targets in the sciences and the implications of these targets, both on caps for entry onto individual science teacher training courses and maintaining a balance of subject specialists in the sciences. Highlights how such definitions should be used to improve official records concerning subject specialist teachers in the sciences including how data on subject specialist status should be employed i) to ensure an accurate and up-to-date record is maintained of the number and distribution of specialist subject teachers, and ii) to provide evidence on the relationship between teachers qualifications/academic background and students attitude, attainment and progression in the sciences. 2. BACKGROUND 3. The rebalancing of the UK economy, and the technological challenges posed by national and global issues, present an urgent need for an increased number of scientists and engineers, and a technically highly skilled workforce 1. It is essential that all young people have the opportunity to progress in the sciences beyond compulsory education and the education system needs to support this. A teacher s own subject knowledge is often thought to affect pupils attitude towards, their attainment, and subsequently their progression, in that subject. 4. Currently, there is an imbalance in the number of specialist biology, chemistry and physics teachers across the English teaching workforce. Physics and chemistry specialist teachers have consistently been under-represented in the science-teaching workforce (the Institute of Physics estimates that there are some 500 secondary schools and colleges that have no specialist physics teacher 2, and a more recent Royal Society report found that 482 post-16 educational institutions in England failed to present a single physics A-level candidate in ). Much of the responsibility for pupils secondary education in the sciences instead falls on the shoulders of teachers with biology or general science qualifications, who often have limited background in chemistry and physics. At primary school level only 3% of teachers hold a specialist degree and Initial Teacher Training (ITT) qualification in science There is currently no requirement that individual school and college science departments have a balanced complement of science subject specialist teachers to teach courses in physics, chemistry and biology. 6. The previous Government administration recognised 1 CBI (2010) SET for growth: Business priorities for science, engineering and technology. 2 Institute of Physics (2010) Physics and: Teacher numbers An Institute of Physics briefing note. 3 Royal Society (2011) Preparing for the transfer from school and college science and mathematics education to UK STEM higher education. A state of the nation report. 4 Royal Society (2010) Science and mathematics education, 5 14: A state of the nation report. 1

3 the importance for specialism and set specific targets for increasing the number of physics, chemistry and mathematics specialist teachers in the English school workforce 5. However, these targets were set without a clear definition of a specialist teacher, a lack of clarity on how data would be collected to monitor the targets and without the means to measure the impact of increasing the number of specialist teachers in these subjects. 7. There is some evidence that teachers with good subject knowledge have a positive influence on students attainment in and attitude towards the sciences (and indeed other subjects), although this is unlikely to be the only influence on students subject choice 6. However, at present, there are no direct means of measuring subject knowledge. The best measure available is the highest qualification of the teacher. Therefore, until a direct measure is available, subject specialism will be based on the route that teachers have taken before they started teaching (their degree subject or employment outside of teaching). 8. In terms of workforce data and target setting, there is a lack of clarity over what is meant by the term specialist. For example, a specialist physics teacher could refer to: a physics graduate teacher; a nonphysics graduate teacher who predominantly teaches physics in a school; a Bachelor of Education who predominantly teaches physics in a school; a nonphysics graduate teacher who completed a Physics Science Additional Specialism Programme etc. A clear definition of specialist is needed to consistently monitor science teacher workforce numbers across the whole age range 5-19 and to ensure that established targets for recruitment of science subject specialists are met. 9. The Education Bill states that it is the Government s intention to increase the number of specialist teachers in shortage subjects, including mathematics, chemistry and physics, in the English teaching workforce. This is very encouraging. However, the overall allocation for science ITT courses in 2011/12 is 22% lower than that for 2008/09 and, moreover, represents a third successive reduction. It is essential that the overall and individual allocations for the sciences accurately reflect staffing needs and requirements for these subjects Recruitment of biology graduates and graduates with biology related degrees into initial teacher training is twice that of physicists. Given the imbalance between the numbers of physics, chemistry and biology teachers, we welcome the recent implementation of specific allocations for physics and chemistry ITT 8. However, it is unclear to SCORE, considering the Government s commitment to subject specialism, why biology is not given a specific allocation and why it is instead grouped with general science, whose definition and purpose are unclear. SCORE strongly recommends biology and the subjects within the category General Science are each given a separate allocation. 5 The Science Innovation Investment Framework Royal Society (2008) Science and mathematics education, A state of the nation report on the participation and attainment of year olds in science and mathematics in the UK Data obtained from TDA (Training and Development Agency). 8 2

4 3. DEFINING SUBJECT SPECIALISM 3.1 Overview 11. SCORE believes that the definition currently being used to monitor and set the national targets for science teachers is too broad, open to misinterpretation and, therefore, not fit for purpose While there is some evidence to suggest teachers with subject specialist knowledge positively influence the teaching and learning of the subject, SCORE makes a clear distinction between subject specialism and teaching expertise. SCORE uses specialism to refer to the subject knowledge gained by a teacher through their degree and/or employment outside of teaching (i.e. industry) and not their ability to teach a given subject. 13. Following broad consultation and the establishment of an expert working group, SCORE has defined three terms for use in describing a teacher s subject specialism for the purpose of data collection: 1) Subject Specialist; 2) Additional Subject Specialist; 3) Non-Specialist. 14. It is intended that these terms should be used to describe an individual s degree of specialism in biology, chemistry and physics. These are discussed in more detail in paragraphs A summary of the routes to Subject Specialist and Additional Subject Specialist is depicted in Diagram SCORE recommends that these terms should be used during the recruitment of chemistry, physics and biology trainee teachers in order to maintain a consistent data set regarding the subject expertise of entrants to teaching. ITT institutions should record the subject expertise of entrants onto ITT courses, using the Joint Academic Coding System (JACS) subject grouping for guidance (see paragraphs 18-20) and the data should be kept by the Department for Education. 16. We believe that the categories defined in paragraphs may be of value beyond the three main science subjects, notably in relation to those who teach psychology and geology, where the qualifications of teachers vary greatly. STEP 1 Obtain subject specialist qualification either through: Subject degree Other Joint Academic Coding System (JACS) recognised degrees Relevant industry experience STEP 1 Obtain main qualification either through: Other subject degree Relevant industry experience 24 WEEK Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) COURSE STEP 2 Obtain teacher qualification, for example through: Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) Teach First Subject Specialist teacher in either: biology, chemistry or physics STEP 3 OPTIONAL Obtain additional subject specialism through Science Additional Specialism Programme (SASP) or equivalent Additional Subject Specialist in either: biology, chemistry or physics Diagram 1: Routes to subject specialist and additional subject specialist teacher in the sciences 9 The then Department for Children, Schools and Families definition of specialist teacher included teachers with subject knowledge gained through their degree as well as those who completed physics and chemistry additional specialism course or with recognised experience from the science community. 3

5 3.2 Subject Specialist 17. To be considered a Subject Specialist for the purpose of data collection, the teacher will have gained at least one of the following: a relevant degree as identified by subject grouping in the JACS (see paragraphs 18-20); demonstrated sufficient experience in the subject through employment 10 ; or a qualification from a 24-week Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) course (see paragraph 30). The teacher must then gain a teaching qualification in the specialist subject. 18. Regarding the JACS, there are 4,815 different first degree titles available in UK universities that require STEM qualifications for entry 11. Understandably this leads to a lack of clarity on which of these STEM degrees qualify a graduate as a subject specialist in physics, chemistry or biology with the potential to become a specialist subject teacher. 19. SCORE recommends that the Department for Education uses the JACS codes to group degrees that would qualify a graduate as a subject specialist either in physics, chemistry and biology that would then allow graduates to qualify towards becoming a specialist subject teacher. It will be the case that some degrees (eg biochemistry, geology, and engineering) would qualify a graduate to be a specialist in more than one of the sciences. It would then depend on the teaching qualification as to whether the graduate is classified as a chemistry, biology or physics specialist teacher. 20. The subject grouping of STEM degrees, using JACS, should be achieved with the support of the SCORE member organisations, Education for Engineering (E4E) and the Advisory Committee for Mathematics Education (ACME). The Department has already made some progress in developing these subject groupings while working on the School Workforce Census 12. It is not proposed the subject groupings are linked in any way to degree accreditation as recognised by a learned society. However, there may be scope in the future to consider linking degree accreditation to the subject knowledge gained by a graduate interested in pursuing a teaching career in the sciences. 3.3 Additional Subject Specialist 21. An Additional Subject Specialist will have successfully completed a teaching qualification and a Science Additional Specialism Programme (SASP) or equivalent course, in a subject outside of their specialism. 3.4 Non-Specialist 22. A Non-Specialist will not hold a relevant qualification to be considered a specialist or additional specialist in a particular subject. For example, a biology graduate with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) in biology would be considered a Non-Specialist in chemistry and physics. 10 For example, sufficient experience could be demonstrated through membership status of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Society of Biology or Institute of Physics. 11 SCORE (2010) Choosing the right STEM degree course: Investigating the information available for prospective applicants

6 4. SUBJECT SPECIALIST TARGETS IN THE SCIENCES 23. Though some teachers enter the maintained sector from the independent sector and from other career paths, the main source of entrants is through recruitment of new graduates. Therefore in addressing the imbalance of specialist teachers in the sciences, effort should focus on increasing the number of new entrants into shortage subjects. The establishment of specific allocations for chemistry and physics ITT places and the desire to raise the status of the teacher profession are steps in the right direction. 4.1 Entry to teaching 24. SCORE welcomes the aspiration to raise the status of the teaching profession. However, this goal can not be achieved by simply raising the bar for entry. Other facets include: improving working conditions, increasing the trust, autonomy and influence given to teachers and acknowledging their value to society. 25. In terms of recruitment, the application process should consider more than just the single measure of degree class. Degree class is not necessarily reflective of an individual s aptitude for teaching. Furthermore, SCORE is concerned that any policy that considers degree class as a proxy for teaching aptitude may discourage graduates with lower class degrees from applying. Deterring these graduates is likely to reduce recruitment into teacher training in shortage subjects and could represent a loss of teaching talent. For instance, in 2010 around 100 physics trainee teachers were accepted onto ITT courses with a third class degree (which is already short of the TDA s internal target by 300) ITT targets and quotas 26. The recruitment of biology graduates into initial teacher training is twice that of physicists. Given the imbalance between the number of physics, chemistry and biology teachers, SCORE welcomes the introduction of specific allocations for physics and chemistry ITT courses. However, to support subject specialism across the science disciplines in the short and long term SCORE strongly recommends there is a specific allocation for biology. It should not be grouped with general sciences, as is currently the case. 27. Moreover, SCORE seeks clarification on the definition of general sciences in the ITT allocations. SCORE member organisations support the notion that there are other degrees outside of straight physics, chemistry and biology that would qualify a graduate as a subject specialist in one of these areas. It is for this reason SCORE recommends that degrees are grouped using the JACS as described in paragraphs Subjects (such as psychology and geology) that fall within the umbrella term general science should be accorded separate quotas and the term general science dropped altogether. 4.3 Increasing the number of Subject Specialists and Additional Subject Specialists in the sciences 29. SCORE supports additional specialist courses, such as the Science Additional Specialism Programme (SASP), which help to address the imbalance of specialist teachers in shortage subjects. The Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) programme has recently added an additional strand to incorporate the aims of SASP. We recommend that the Department monitors the impact of this change. 13 See also Royal Society (2007) The UK s science and mathematics teaching workforce. A state of the nation report. This report shows, using TDA data, that almost one-fifth of science postgraduate applicants between 2001 and 2006 would have been debarred had the new minimum requirement been operable. 5

7 30. Due to the high level of subject content covered in the 24-week Science Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) programme, SCORE recognises that SKE provides a route to becoming a Subject Specialist teacher. Any SKE course lower than 24 weeks would not qualify an applicant towards gaining Subject Specialist status. In addressing the imbalance of specialist teachers it is important that programmes such as the 24-week SKE continue to exist and are funded appropriately. 4.4 Addressing the shortfall of physics specialists 31. With pupils in some 500 secondary schools and colleges in England without access to a physics specialist teacher, SCORE recommends there is specific targeting of physics and engineering graduates for careers into teaching. The grouping of degrees using JACS would facilitate and promote this. 32. Around a fifth of physics graduates entering teaching train as mathematics teachers 14. Some of these physicists choose not to train as physics teachers because they assume they would have to teach biology and chemistry. SCORE recommends that this perception that teachers are required to teach outside their specialism is addressed at the recruitment stage, at ITT and within schools. In addition, there should be a greater effort to allow specialist physics teachers to learn to teach mathematics as an additional subject specialism. 4.5 Implications for biology 33. A small-scale pilot study commissioned for SCORE, carried out by the University of Cumbria 15, suggests that the combination of a shortage of physics and chemistry teachers and a surfeit of biologists has three possible detrimental effects: i. PGCE students with a biology background are given training placements in which they predominantly teach outside their specialism. According to the report s author, continuously teaching outside one s specialism could undermine a teacher s enthusiasm for teaching ; ii. Biology teachers are making strategic decisions in embarking on courses to acquire additional specialisms, to increase the likelihood they can secure a job at the end of the course and not because they have an intrinsic interest in the new specialism; and iii. High calibre biologists are being diverted into teaching physical science through a range of incentives, including financial reward. 34. While SCORE accepts that the quality of biology teaching in England is generally good, we have real concerns that the effect of current strategies to address shortages of specialist physics and chemistry teachers could inadvertently lead to a lower quality of biology education in the long term. 4.6 The application process 35. The application process for all teacher training courses should be centralised. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that the current sequential system for Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE), which is overseen by the Graduate Teacher Training Registry (GTTR), results in the loss of some applicants. A candidate s application is held by their first choice institution, and only passed on to the second if rejected by the first. The process may then be repeated. 36. We advocate greater transparency in the decisionmaking process for applicants to science Initial Teacher Training. SCORE recommends that the Government commission research examining why applicants, particularly in the shortage subjects in the sciences, are rejected from science ITT and why some accepted applicants choose not to embark on training courses. 14 A. Smithers and P. Robinson (2006) Physics in schools and universities Patterns and Policies. 15 L. Lakin (2010) Science Teacher Education: Special focus on biology. 6

8 4.7 Retention 37. Retention during and following recruitment into the teaching workforce remains a critical issue as its failure represents a potential wastage of investment by individuals, universities, schools and, more importantly, a loss of teaching talent 16. A natural loss of teachers to the profession is to be expected e.g. through retirement, career break or career change. Significantly though, just under half of newly qualified teachers will have left the maintained sector within five years of embarking on their teaching career 17. Reducing this loss and encouraging returns would in part address the shortages of specialist teachers in the sciences and thereby help build a community of specialists with both subject specific and teaching expertise. SCORE therefore recommends that there is an increased commitment to investigating the reasons behind this leakage and tackling them. 38. SCORE members note the vital importance of policy initiatives and incentives to encourage those in-service to remain in the profession including subject specific CPD and greater support in the early years of a teacher s career. We would like to see a continued commitment to early career mentoring particularly for new teachers who are the only specialist in their subject in a school. 5. EMPLOYING DATA ON SUBJECT SPECIALIST TEACHERS IN THE SCIENCES 39. Reliable and meaningful data on the school and college workforce are required to determine the impact of subject specialism and acquired subject specialist expertise in the sciences on teaching and learning. The recent School Workforce Census, published in April , is still some way from achieving this Workforce information 40. Workforce data should be collected annually to provide a detailed and accurate record of the specialist subject status of new entrants into teaching, teachers in-service and of those choosing to leave or return. The SCORE definition outlined in this document should be applied to determine a teacher s specialist subject status as well as the teacher s specialist subject status in the subjects they currently teach. 41. Explicitly, the data should be collected in such a way that teachers/schools are not able to selfdesignate their specialism, based on their current deployment or previous teaching experiences. 42. It is important that data on the Subject Specialist and Additional Subject Specialist are collected separately to track the impact of the two different routes to specialism. It is equally important that records be maintained on the numbers of nonspecialists that are teaching science outside their specialism. 5.2 School-level data 43. The total number of specialist teachers in a given subject in a school will be the sum of those considered as Subject Specialists (as defined in section 3.2) and Additional Subject Specialists (as in section 3.3). This is likely to be greater than the number of teachers employed by the school as a teacher can hold a specialist status in say physics and additional specialist status in chemistry. This total figure will make it clear to school senior leaders and Ofsted inspectors whether they have adequate staff to meet the expectations of the National Curriculum. 44. Every school should be held accountable for maintaining a balance of subject specialists within its science department, and for deploying these appropriately to ensure that all pupils benefit from 16 Royal Society (2007) The UK s science and mathematics teaching workforce. A state of the nation report. 17 Royal Society (2007) The UK s science and mathematics teaching workforce. A state of the nation report. Notably, retention rates for other subjects are similar SCORE submitted evidence to the UK Statistics Authority consultation on the DfE publication School Workforce in England. The response is available to download at 7

9 being taught by subject specialists in the sciences. Ideally, a specialist teacher should not be teaching in isolation in a school. If this is unavoidable, an effective mechanism of external support should be put in place to connect them with specialist teachers in the sciences in other schools, for example, through the Stimulating Physics Network or through Advanced Skills Teachers (ASTs). This sharing of knowledge, experience and expertise with other specialist teachers is particularly important for supporting Newly Qualified Teachers. 45. Achieving this balance would require full support amongst senior school leadership (including Head Teachers and Governors), and an understanding and agreement of what is meant by the term Subject Specialist and Additional Subject Specialist. Schools would be expected to plan the school timetable to make best use of specialists and ensure specialist teachers are deployed at all key stages. Senior school leadership should also attempt to replace departing specialist teachers in the sciences with a specialist or provide subject enhancement courses (for example through the SKE programme) for those without specialist knowledge in the subject. 46. To maximise their impact, specialist subject teachers must be deployed appropriately in schools. This is also likely to positively impact on the recruitment and retention of specialist teachers. Guidelines should also be provided to senior school leaders on appropriate deployment Demand for specialist teachers in the sciences at Key Stage 4 and post-16 should not prevent access to specialist teachers at Key Stage 3 and below. Indeed, SCORE member organisations believe that the presence of a good specialist science teacher at primary and lower secondary level is likely to be crucial in nurturing students imagination and embedding long-term interest in the sciences. 5.3 Data accessibility 48. SCORE seeks clarity on the extent to which the data on specialist teachers will be accessible to the public. The General Teaching Council for England (GTCE), which is soon to be disbanded, currently enables day-to-day collection through its register and publication of workforce data. SCORE seeks clarity on how this role will be fulfilled in the future. 5.4 Future research 49. Notwithstanding the variety of factors that affect educational success, robust evidence is required to establish the extent to which a teacher s subject specialist qualification(s) contributes to the quality of teaching and learning in the sciences. With accurate data on the number of Subject Specialist, Additional Subject Specialist and Non-Specialist teachers in the sciences, evidence would be available to conduct a longitudinal study to explore the existence of any correlation between teacher subject specialist qualifications, deployment and the quality of teaching and learning (based on pupil attainment and progression).

10 RECOMMENDATIONS RECOMMENDATION 1 For the purpose of data collection, the Government should adopt the clear and robust definition of a subject specialist teacher developed by SCORE. The SCORE definition states that every science teacher should be classified as a (full) subject specialist and/or an additional subject specialist and/ or a non-specialist for each of the compulsory science subjects. These definitions refer only to the subject knowledge held by a teacher through qualifications or past employment outside of school. They do not refer to teaching expertise or the subjects that the teachers currently teach. RECOMMENDATION 2 The Department for Education (DfE) should develop a mechanism to use the Joint Academic Coding System (JACS), in collaboration with professional bodies and teacher trainers, to group degrees that would potentially, together with an accredited teaching qualification, qualify a graduate as a subject specialist either in physics, chemistry or biology. RECOMMENDATION 3 Using the SCORE definition, science ITT places should be allocated to applicants with both specialist subject knowledge and assessed good aptitude for teaching. The JACS classification of degree courses should be used to help identify courses that would be most likely to equip ITT applicants with the necessary subject specialist knowledge. Recommendation 4 Candidates applying for teacher training courses in shortage subjects (physics and chemistry) should not be discouraged from doing so on the basis of having attained a lower class degree. A policy that does so may reduce recruitment into teacher training in shortage subjects and could represent a loss of teaching talent. Recommendation 5 A real commitment should be made to addressing the imbalance of specialist teachers in the sciences by maintaining (or increasing) the allocations for science ITT courses each year. Recommendation 6 To support subject specialism in all the sciences SCORE strongly urges there is a separate allocation for biology ITT courses. The subjects currently considered to fall within the category general science should be given separate allocations and the term general science dropped altogether. Recommendation 7 The Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) programme has recently added an additional strand to incorporate the aims of SASP. We recommend that the Department monitors the impact of this change. Recommendation 8 The following approaches to recruitment are likely to help address the imbalance of subject specialist teachers in the sciences: A. Earlier promotion of teaching as a career, particularly to STEM undergraduates. B. Targeting engineering graduates in addition to physics graduates for careers into teaching physics. C. At the recruitment stage, at ITT and within schools there should be recognition that there is flexibility in the subject combinations a specialist teacher teaches. Although not currently the case, a physics graduate interested in teaching should be assured that, should they wish to, they can train to teach (and teach) predominantly physics and mathematics, rather than the three sciences. 9

11 Recommendation 9 The application process for all teacher training courses should be centralised. In addition, the sequential application system for prospective PGCE applicants should change to allow an individual s application to be considered simultaneously by a number of institutions, in similar manner to UCAS. Recommendation 10 There should be greater transparency in the decision making process for applicants to sciences ITT. Furthermore, the Government should commission research examining why applicants, particularly in the shortage subjects in the sciences, are rejected from ITT and why some accepted applicants choose not to embark on training courses. Recommendation 11 There should be an increased commitment to investigating the reasons behind the high rate of loss of new teachers from the profession, particularly focusing on the initial five years post-teaching qualification and a commitment to tackling this loss. Recommendation 12 Using the SCORE definitions outlined in this briefing paper, data should be collected on an annual basis to provide a detailed and accurate record of the specialist subject status of new entrants into teaching, teachers in-service and of those choosing to leave or return. Recommendation 13 The Department for Education should ensure there are mechanisms in place that encourage schools to have a full complement of specialist teachers in the sciences, both in the primary and secondary teaching workforce, and that they are suitably deployed. Recommendation 14 Notwithstanding the variety of factors that affect educational success, a longitudinal study is required to explore the existence of any correlation between teacher subject specialist qualifications, deployment and the quality of teaching and learning (based on pupil attainment and progression). Such a study would provide robust evidence on the impact of Subject Specialist, Additional Subject Specialist and Non- Specialist teachers. Supported by the Department for Education and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. SCORE - Science Community Representing Education 6-9 Carlton House Terrace London SW1Y 5AG tel: +44 (0) web: Publication date: July 2011 SCORE, a collaboration of organisations working together on science education policy: Association for Science Education Institute of Physics Royal Society Royal Society of Chemistry Society of Biology

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