Page last updated at 11:30 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 12:30 UK

Teachers 'are scared of numeracy'

primary classroom
English and maths are the focus of a primary education

Primary school teachers in England are often scared of basic numeracy and should be required to study English and maths at A-level, a report suggests.

The Politeia study says the BEd degree should be abolished and future primary teachers required to study two subjects - other than education - at university.

The report says teachers in other parts of Europe are better qualified.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families called the study "nonsense masquerading as serious comment".

At present, future primary school teachers need at least two A-levels and C grades in GCSE maths and English to get a place on a teaching degree or BEd courses.

But the report - Teachers Matter - by the right-of-centre think tank says these entry standards to the profession are too low.

'Numeracy scares them'

Writing for the study, David Burghes, professor of maths teaching at the University of Plymouth, said: "One of the issues that bedevils our teaching profession, and particularly my subject of mathematics, is that of the inadequate subject knowledge of teachers."

Professor Burghes said trainee primary teachers who had only GCSE maths often had "little knowledge beyond basic numeracy" and in some cases "even basic numeracy scares them".

"The minimum entry level in mathematics to initial teacher training for primary is a Grade C at GCSE in mathematics," he said.

"This qualification has often been taken some years before the training period (five or more years if they are taking a PGCE course) so that there may be little knowledge beyond basic numeracy about which a trainee feels confident."

He added: "The situation is vastly different in most countries around the world and particularly in Europe, where any potential teacher will have taken mathematics through to the equivalent of their sixth form - that is, up to age 18 or more.

"This means that all primary teachers are, in comparison to England, highly qualified in mathematics."

Unions angry

But Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union said teachers were suitably qualified.

"Teachers are well qualified, it is a mainly graduate profession. There is absolutely no evidence that they haven't got the skills and knowledge to do the job."

In international comparisons, the UK did very well, she added.

Nansi Ellis, head of education policy at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said teaching was both an intellectual and a practical profession.

"Being an academic genius does not mean you will be any good at teaching children," she said.

"As well as knowing their subject, teachers need to understand the different ways children learn and develop.

"Instead of hysterical reports of so-called under-educated teachers we should have a proper debate about the skills and knowledge teachers need to be good at teaching children."


The report also raises concerns about retention levels in the profession, saying between 30% and 50% of primary and secondary school teachers in England leave the profession after five years.

It describes teaching as a "controlled and centrally managed profession" and urges the next government to "abolish political and bureaucratic control of the classroom".

"In no other country is a teacher's day to day work circumscribed by government or bureaucrats," it says.

The report also criticises low final salaries and pay models which do not reward outstanding teaching or non- management responsibilities.


The Department for Children, Schools and Families was critical of the report and its findings.

"This report is simply nonsense masquerading as serious comment," a spokesman said.

"Teaching is now the number one choice for graduates and the latest figures show that 95% of current primary school trainee teachers have a 2:2 degree or better.

"Every single teacher needs to have a degree for postgraduate teaching training course and at least two A-levels or equivalent to get on the well-respected three year education degree - as well as GCSEs in English, maths and science."

Classroom teachers' pay had risen in real terms by 17%, head teachers by 32% and newly-qualified teachers by 13% over the past 12 years, he added.

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