"It is in everyone’s interests to ensure teachers have deep subject knowledge"

Posted on: 27 Jan 2017
Posted by: Julie Robinson

As Sutton Trust publishes research showing a huge gap in the number of science graduates entering teacher training, ISC General secretary Julie Robinson outlines how the independent sector can help reverse the trend.

It's perhaps no surprise to learn there are more specialist science teachers in independent schools than there are in the state sector.

In fact, subject specialism is something independent schools value for the teaching of all subjects, not just in the later years of schooling but often all the way through junior school.

While it's good to see in this morning's report by the Sutton Trust that 91% of our physics teachers possess a relevant qualification, and 11% of our biology teachers are doctors, the title of the research, Science Shortfall, is of just as much concern to independent schools as to all others.

It is in everyone’s interests to ensure teachers have deep subject knowledge which will enable them to extend and inspire their pupils. Many teachers are expected to teach a range of subjects and do so competently but it is more likely that a specialist with excellent resources to hand will develop a lifelong interest in a subject. This is why independent schools partner with state schools, sharing science labs and other resources: to spark a genuine interest in youngsters.

Science has been crucial to our success as the nation that drove the revolution of industry 250 years ago and some of the finest minds in scientific fields have come from these shores.

Rewards and recognition are important but there is concern that sciences have become less popular options over recent many years.

The numbers of pupils opting for biology, physics and chemistry at A level have fallen and the number of graduates choosing to go into teaching has reduced.

In the past year fewer than 750 physics graduates entered teacher training in the whole of the UK. Now only half of all physics teachers have a degree in the subject. Just 35,328 students completed a physics A level last year - making it the least popular science.

We are pleased that independent schools are doing their bit - accounting for 17% of physics A level students, as well as 16% in chemistry and 13% in biology, despite only educating 7% of school children nationally.

This new report demonstrates the need for us all to work together to shore up the UK's hard-won respect in science- and technology-based industries at a time when these industries are an important focus for us as a nation. And the independent sector is ready to play its part.

The Independent Schools' Teacher Induction Panel (ISTIP) helps deliver what the DfE describes as 'exemplary practice' to more than 1,000 newly qualified teachers each year. Four out of five teachers who go through ISTIP are still teaching three years later, often at the same school. Whilst this does focus on independent schools, large numbers of teachers move between independent and state sectors so it provides a boost for education as a whole.

School-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) is probably more well-known in the state sector - a network of teaching schools giving on-the-job training to aspiring teachers. At present just five independent schools are teaching schools, although more are part of broader alliances of schools. ISC is currently working with DfE to set up a SCITT for modern foreign languages initial teacher training which we hope will act as a model for similar future schemes in maths and science.

As well as these well-established routes for independent and state sectors to work together to train new teachers, the government's recent Schools that work for everyone green paper consultation gave us the opportunity to say how we would see partnership work increase even further.

On behalf of 1,300 leading independent schools, ISC proposed further expansion of the teaching, coaching, university and careers advice, educational events and sharing of facilities already provided to an estimated 160,000 state school pupils. Within this partnership work are schemes designed to help teachers get together to share knowledge and share professional development opportunities with each other.

Tackling issues within teaching in specific ways according to local need we are keen to help reverse a trend in teaching, specifically science teaching, being seen at a national level. And if we have more teachers, we'll have more children interested in pursuing scientific and technical paths.


About Julie Robinson

Julie Robinson is chief executive at ISC.

Before becoming ISC chief executive, Julie was a teacher, housemistress and head of Ardingly College Junior School and then Vinehall Prep School in Sussex. After these headships, she was education and training director for the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools (IAPS). She is governor of a state school and an independent school.