Whole School Implications

On June 30th 2016 The Department For Education published their most recent statistics on the teaching workforce in the UK. Looking at the data for secondary schools in the UK, from 2015 to 2016 there has been a 1.2% decrease in numbers of secondary teachers across all subjects, a 3.0% decrease in the number of teaching assistants and a 1.2% decrease in support staff which includes Science technicians. These figures all have an impact on teacher workload and the experiences offered to students.

Physics Teaching Implications

The decrease in teacher headcount, whilst student numbers are increasing, will lead to larger class sizes and the additional workload linked with bigger classes. The decrease in the number of science technicians will have an impact on the practical aspects of physics (and all science) lessons. Increased class sizes but reduced technician support can and will, most likely, lead in one direction – reduced practical investigations – at the same time as the new Physics/Science GCSEs have increased the practical demand in their specifications.

The reasons for the decrease in staff numbers can be speculated over and discussed, however, it is important to remember that, whatever the cause, that we are talking about the education of the next generation. We are in this situation and have a responsibility to make the best of it that we can. It wont be easy. Schools are facing budgetary issues that mean the reduction in staff numbers is likely to continue. This could lead to more pressure on the remaining staff, possibly more sick days due to stress, hence more cover lessons. Students will fall behind and then staff returning from leave will have to rush through content leading to more stress for students and staff alike.

Looking at the data for the staff that are teaching in our secondary schools at present, 5.9% have no QTS. Without a doubt, there is some fantastic subject knowledge out there; but there is more to teaching than knowing things. Explaining difficult concepts to developing minds is a delicate matter, and a sound knowledge of educational theory is vital to help students achieve their maximum potential.

Physics Teacher Qualifications

Astonishingly, 37.5% of physics teachers have no relevant qualifications above A-Level. This is the highest percentage of all core subjects. In engineering, 80.2% of teachers have no relevant post A-Level qualification. Teaching outside your specialism reduces the enrichment opportunities for students because often staff can not answer questions which fall beyond the scope of the syllabus.

Interestingly, 25.4% of all physics teaching hours are taught by staff with no relevant post A-level qualifications. This implies that the specialist physics teachers are not teaching general science at KS3 but are being used at KS4 and above for physics only teaching. This means that as much as schools are able, they are putting specialist physics teachers in front of GCSE and A-Level students, which can only be a positive thing. On the other hand, it means that the pre-GCSE students are missing out on specialist physics instruction in the years that the foundations of physics concepts are being laid.

Put the Students First

There is much coverage in the media regarding the state of our schools, some warranted and some not. As educators it is vital to remember why we do the job. The Students. They are facing a time of uncertainty – their GCSEs look very different from previous iterations, their classes are getting bigger and their resources are becoming more scarce (where is the funding for new specification textbooks going to come from?). We need to keep them enthusiastic and engaged despite the current climate. Support one another and Good Luck.

Sources:

Department for Education Main Report on School Workforce Statistics

OpenOffice Data Tables for School Workforce Statistics

Latest Teacher Statistics from the DfE and the Possible Implications for Physics Teaching
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