Under-qualified maths teachers get training boost

 

A PROGRAMME to address the crisis in maths at second-level schools is to be announced later today by the Department of Education. The move comes amid controversy about the large number of maths teachers taking Leaving Cert classes who are not fully qualified.

Figures released last night show that while about 30 per cent of teachers studied maths for at least one year in college, it was not the main focus of their degree. About 70 per cent were fully qualified, while 49 out of more than 2,000 surveyed had no qualifications whatever in the subject.

The figures were provided by the Teaching Council to the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn, who has faced controversy over the large number of unqualified maths teachers in the classroom.

The Teaching Council is the statutory professional body for teaching in Ireland, established to promote the professional development of teachers and to regulate standards in the profession.

The training programme will provide unqualified maths teachers or those without full qualifications with the opportunity to upskill their knowledge of maths, as the more user-friendly Project Maths course is introduced in every school from 2014.

The Teaching Council surveyed 2,045 teachers in 258 second-level schools to assess the level of maths expertise among staff.

Concerns about maths standards in schools have deepened in recent years. More than 4,000 students failed maths in the Leaving Cert this year, with close to 10 per cent of students failing the ordinary level maths paper. Irish teenagers also perform poorly in the international league tables on maths compiled by the OECD.

The department is developing a competitive process to select providers to run the training programme. Tenders will be invited shortly for the programme, which will combine online learning with lectures provided on a regional basis.

Last night Minister of State for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock said: “I want to get to a situation where all teachers of maths have a maths qualification and the training programme will help achieve this.”

The Government has been under pressure from business and employer groups to boost standards in maths. Only about 16 per cent of Leaving Cert students – about 8,000 in total – took higher-level maths in the Leaving Cert this year, one of the lowest numbers on record.

The low take-up on maths also limits the numbers taking science and engineering subjects at third level, where higher-level maths is usually a requirement.

Low standards in maths have also led to high drop-out rates from computer courses at third level, as students struggle to cope with the maths component of the course.

Mr Sherlock said the Teaching Council survey “helps us to get a clearer picture of what is actually happening on the ground in these schools and the data allows us to plan to meet the training needs of teachers over the coming years”.

He said the upskilling of those without qualifications was an important issue.

“The roll-out of Project Maths and having teachers with the right skills and knowledge will help us to achieve a real change in the way maths is taught in our schools,” Mr Sherlock added.

Implementation of the revised maths syllabuses, which began in all schools last year, is supported by professional development for teachers, which includes a series of national workshops for all maths teachers, supplementary evening courses on content and ICT for maths, and a wide range of teaching and learning resources.

The training programme comes after the report of the project maths implementation support group proposed that “the Department of Education and Skills should work towards ensuring that all post-primary students at all levels are taught mathematics solely by teachers who hold a qualification in mathematics by 2018”.

The report also said postgraduate courses for existing teachers should be provided on a scale and level commensurate with this objective.