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Monday, 15 April, 2002, 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK
Science teachers 'undervalued'
Report argues the case for university research
The chancellor of the exchequer has been told he ought to make money available to pay maths and science teachers more.

The advice comes in a report Gordon Brown himself commissioned in his Budget last year on the supply of people with science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills.

The report also said the government should invest more in school and university science labs because poor facilities put people off careers in research and development.

The inquiry, led by the president of Wolfson College, Oxford, Sir Gareth Roberts, also said the science curriculum in schools needed to be made more attractive and "relevant" to make it more interesting to pupils, especially girls.

And it advocated a "major new programme" to pay university science students to teach in schools.

Skills shortage

Gordon Brown set up Sir Gareth's review in his drive to improve Britain's record on investment in research and development.

In a covering letter to him, Sir Gareth said the government, in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, had done much in recent years to increase investment in scientific research in UK universities.

There were signs that this and the measures taken to stimulate the commercialisation of research are yielding fruit.

But there were "serious problems in the supply of people with the requisite high quality skills".

Although more people were doing scientific and technical degrees there had been "significant falls" in the numbers taking physics, mathematics, chemistry and engineering qualifications - which "could undermine the government 's attempts to improve the UK 's productivity and competitiveness".

Expense

The government has introduced "golden hellos" worth 4,000 for new teachers in secondary school subjects which are short of specialist staff - which include maths and science.

But the most recent recruitment figures showed another 12% drop in applications to do maths degrees, and Ofsted has warned that one school in eight now does not have enough maths teachers.

Sir Gareth's review said: "The government should tackle such recruitment and retention problems through increasing the remuneration offered to teachers of these shortage subjects - and also that head teachers and governing bodies use all the pay flexibility at their disposal."

It said there was "little firm evidence" that fear of debt was putting off students from doing science at university, even though they often did longer courses - four years rather than three.

But it said access to hardship funds was especially important because the demanding nature of their studies meant they had only a limited number of hours available for part-time paid work.

It recommended that "to attract academic staff, universities must use all the flexibility at their disposal differentially to increase the salaries - particularly starting salaries - of some scientists and engineers".

The report has been praised by the campaign group Save British Science, headed by Peter Cotgreave.

"It confirms what we have been saying for years," Dr Cotgreave said.

Problem

"Science, engineering and mathematics are crucial to the economy, and for a long time, many people involved in research have been warning that it is increasingly difficult to recruit and retain good teachers, lecturers and researchers.

"Every day, new evidence is building that this if this problem is not solved, the UK is going to suffer.

"Now the team that the chancellor himself appointed has told him that it is no longer good enough to pay highly-trained science teachers and researchers vastly less than they could earn in the USA, or if they left science altogether.

"There's a market for the best brains, and we have to pay the going rate."

Wider issue

The Association of University Teachers said the problems were more widespread than science and engineering.

Its general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "I just hope the Treasury reads and acts upon the evidence in this report.

"These problems apply across the entire higher education sector: arts and humanities as well as sciences, teaching as well as research.

"To pretend that the solution is to pay scientists more than their equally hard-working colleagues in other subject areas is misguided and divisive."

See also:

19 Feb 02 | Education
Beckham's boots teaching science
11 Feb 01 | Wales
Loans deal to lure new teachers
29 Jan 01 | Education
Paradox hitting trainee teachers
11 May 00 | Unions 2000
'Life-saving' researchers see no future
20 Sep 01 | Education
Debt 'deters research students'
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