Eight easy ways to keep science teachers

A report published in March 2019 by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation has outlined eight straightforward interventions secondary schools can use to improve their recruitment and retainment of high-quality science teachers.

With a shortage of specialist physics and chemistry teachers, the eight cost-effective and low-risk interventions aim to provide school leaders with a means of taking immediate action to tackle specialist subject recruitment and retention challenges.

Based on a thorough review of existing research, the eight principles cover a range of areas, with suggestions for implementation and supportive references provided.

Eight principles

1 Too much too soon

Teaching physics, chemistry and biology increases workload. Instead, concentrate on a specialism.

2 Let them walk before they run

Get confident with a specific key stage or type of pupil before moving on.

3 Dream team

Make your best science teachers available to newbies.

4 Here comes the science bit

Offer subject CPD as well as pedagogical.

5 Practice makes perfect

Provide coaching in specific skills, practice them in the classroom and review progress.

6 Money talks

A new teacher is more sensitive to pay than a teacher with 10 years of experience.

7 The grass is greener

Set salaries with an eye to outside earning potential – science graduates tend to earn more outside teaching.

8 Room to grow

Give new teachers autonomy backed up with strong leadership and a sense of shared mission.

Shortage of teachers

Sam Sims, the researcher from UCL’s Institute of Education and author of the paper, said: “Given the shortages faced by science departments up and down the country, the principles outlined are much needed.

"England has a severe shortage of teachers, particularly in the sciences, and this is only set to worsen with the secondary-age school population forecast to grow by 19% in the decade to 2026."

Despite various initiatives, we have seen a worrying decline in the number of physics and chemistry trainees. This paper provides school leaders with research-backed, pragmatic solutions to the current retention and recruitment challenges faced by science departments.

Chris Shepherd, IOP teacher recruitment and retention manager, said: “We very much welcome Sam’s insights, especially in the areas of deployment and development which mirror our current research projects.

"The report offers strong evidence about what works and we will be discussing these ideas with DfE to get them adopted nationally. Similarly, we would urge teachers to discuss this report in their schools.”

Sir John Holman, senior adviser to Gatsby, and president of the Association for Science Education, welcomed the report but added that it would take time to implement. He said, “The principles in Gatsby’s report provide school leaders with steps they can take in the meantime to bolster science teacher numbers.”

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