Call to pay maths graduates bonus to go into teaching

Concern over qualifications of maths teachers despite upskilling programme

University of Limerick which trains maths teachers. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

University of Limerick which trains maths teachers. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

A call has been made for newly-qualified maths graduates to be paid a bonus to go into teaching amid claims that they face intense pressure to emigrate or to take up lucrative jobs in financial services.

Prof Ted Hurley of the Department of Mathematics, NUI Galway, has expressed concern that Irish education is losing some of its best maths graduates because of incentives elsewhere.

“The UK gives grants to maths graduates of the order of £5,000 in order to pursue a teaching qualification. We should do something similar.”

While he said the argument would be made that no subject should have priority in education, “we must be seen internationally to be supporting mathematics, the basis of much of the new technology; our economy depends on it”.

He was speaking ahead of the graduation later this month of the first cohort of existing maths teachers to undergo an upskilling programme so they meet basic qualification standards.

The programme at University of Limerick (UL), which is funded by the Department of Education, was set up after a study showed 48 per cent of those teaching maths at post-primary level had no qualification in maths teaching.

Tomás Ó Ruairc, director of the Teaching Council, said there were now over 5,000 teachers on its professional register who satisfied the subject criteria for maths. This was an increase of several hundred in the space of a year, something that was a direct result of the UL programme.

However, he said work still needed to be done to ensure teachers were employed “appropriate to the post”.

Under department guidelines, schools should fill all posts with appropriately qualified staff but teachers are often deployed “out of field” because of resource constraints.

Prof Hurley said it should be compulsory that anyone teaching maths at second level meets the appropriate Council threshold of qualification, and no “opt outs” should be allowed.

“A quick calculation would indicate that a school should have at least 1/7 (one-seventh) of their staff who have the Teaching Council essentials for Maths teachers – as Maths is a required subject. I know of schools with the order of 40-plus teachers with less than two – yes, zero or one – teachers with these requirements.”

Along with the UK, the US paid a premium for maths teachers, and Prof Hurley said a similar incentive was needed here to improve the quality of maths teaching in schools.

He pointed out that nearly half of the graduates of NUIG’s BA in Maths and Education who went into teaching got permanent positions in the UK, while those who got positions in Ireland mostly obtained temporary or part-time posts.

Underlying the problem is “we don’t have enough mathematics graduates,” he said. “Pro rata the UK has 2-3 times the number of maths graduates that we have and they are short of maths teachers.”

A departmental working group is due to report later this year on how best to meet teacher supply needs in the future, including gaps in maths and science teaching.

To be fully registered with the Council, maths teachers must have studied the subject over at least three years of a degree, and to have passed relevant exams.