Today the Royal Society, Blighty's pre-eminent boffinry institution, has issued its "state of the nation" report into science education in the UK – and it doesn't make encouraging reading. According to the report, there are far too few schoolchildren studying the correct combinations of subjects at A-Level in order to become …
Way back when...
... well before my time, even, but maybe it still happens, there were teachers that didn't start out teaching. They started out as something else entirely, and upon retirement filled a couple years with teaching. A retiree foreman or staff sergeant is not likely to have trouble keeping order. A civil engineer or scientist isn't going to have trouble explaining what you can do with all that math, physics, chemistry, and so on.
As they say: Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach. And now we've made that a specialism. The words "results" and "predictable" come to mind.
The initial graphic was about Primary schools. I think it was pretty shocking, but it is not the biggest problem in that sector. There are still plenty of people in education who think it 'inappropriate' for men to teach in Primary school.
Do you think that people that far up their own agenda are going to give a stuff about mathematics or future employment or the good of the country?
It's the same all over Europe
The same thing is true all over Europe.
Ask yourself this simple question. Why would you take the hard route and study to become an engineer or scientist? If you take the easier route and study management and other bs, you'll be able to manage the engineers and scientist.
There is no appreciation for technical skills, nor for the people that actually get things done. And that is the biggest threat to the western world.
There are quite a few highly successfuly German corporations who have CEOs with engineering degrees. Some of them (such as Mr Piech or Mr Zetsche) can actually design and build something else than only an Excel sheet.
Mr Piech built VW (and all its european elements) into a serious competitor to Toyota, which is #1 in automotive.
Warren East of ARM is educated as an engineer, as are many of his colleagues:
Angela Merkel has a Physics PhD.
Google: Two engineers/computer scientists at the top.
Intel: Founded by engineers, still run by engineers.
It is true that many engineers have trouble dealing with "social" issues in the widest sense. But it is also true that other professions have trouble dealing with "reality", in the widest sense. See 2008/9 financial crisis.
Engineers need to mingle with people instead of isolating themselves. When they do, they will quickly realize there are so many opportunities to improve the state of affairs and what the weaknesses of other professions are. Also, experience and learn the nasty tricks. Experience the "heat in the kitchen".
If you are too lazy or too cowardly for that, please do not complain.
Some pictures of engineers:
OK, for those of us in the Colonies...
WTF is an "A-Level"?!?
Lewis, you *do* realize that you have an international readership. don't you? Sheesh!
These things don't translate precisely, but ...
An O ("ordinary") level education is roughly the same as graduating high school here in the USA.
An A ("advanced") level education is roughly the same as an AA degree here in the USA, but instead of getting it at a Junior College, you do the extra couple years in your local high school.
Need more teachers?
Theres something I've encountered, as a graduate (possessing a B.Sc (Hons) in mathematics), which I don't know how widespread it is.
I would like to go into teaching, I have attended open days at University's, obtained all the flyers, leaflets and booklets on the courses. But theres a problem, to go and study for a PGCE I need (or at least according to all the institutions whose courses I've browsed the requirements for) at least 1 days classroom observation. Now thats the hard part, schools and colleges won't even bother replying to you, let alone consider the request. Which means I can't study for a PGCE, which means I won't go into teaching.
I can understand that schools/colleges have a moral and legal duty to protect their pupils/students from outsiders, but surely its overkill if you don't even respond to requests, instead of responding and getting a check on the applicant. I mean, if this problems nationwide, then maybe its not a shortage of candidates but a failure to even consider the applicants and an application process that is self defeating (you must have classroom experience to be a teacher, but you must also be a teacher to get classroom experience).
It seems to me the majority (well actually, all the teachers I know) come exclusively from the SAS program (where undergraduate students spend time in schools) and outside of that the way into teaching is barred (or at least heavily barricaded to dissuade potential teachers).
Perhaps the real issue isn't the lack of teachers, but the failures of the current recruitment system?
A) your MP
B) your education ministry
I am sure this will help.
If you're academically minded or just good at exams, I like the Irish system for Junior (at 15) and Leaving Certificate (at 17/18). Points for university qualification are based on the 6 best honours subjects. pupils in school typically do 8 subjects and allowing for pass Irish (Gaelic to the rest of the world), that gives some leeway.
Maths, Irish and English are compulsory but it let me take Latin, French and history to complement chemistry and biology. I would've taken physics but I really didn't like my physics teacher (before I'm flamed as a fluff).
Go into teaching? No chance!
I think that the real issue that others have raised is why very talented, enthusiastic and knowledgable people will not go into teaching.
I have three friends who are teachers, who teach in a complete variety of schools - one of the new academys, a faith based Catholic school and a bog standard comprehensive and all of them are seriously considering leaving the profession. The reason: The rediculous amount of completely irrelevant and unnecessary paperwork, which means that nearly every night they are working, unpaid, until about 10pm. Everyday of the week, plus weekends and holidays.
They love the teaching, imparting knowledge and working with the pupils, but the paperwork is the killer. It's all so that the govenment (of whatever political flavour) can be 'seen to be doing something'. 'Look', they say, 'teaching standards are improving, here are numbers!'. And yet the way these numbers are generated inevitably decreases teaching standards: teachers are spending more time off sick, leaving after a year or two, focussed on teaching to the test and people who would make really good teachers won't touch the profession with a barge pole.
I would love to go into teaching - I currently work as a volunteer youth worker in the evenings, so I'm used to working with kids, some of whom are challenging. I have over 10 years of industry experience. I'd be happy to take the pay cut while qualifying and starting out. But there's no way that I'd currently consider it until there sheer amount of useless, bullshit paperwork is reduced and teaching is just that - teaching. So I'll continue to work in a fairly non-challenging job, making OK money looking after build servers and writing the abomination that is InstallScript. But at least I can go home at 5.30, have a social life and retain my good physical and mental health.
It's also worth noting that that when my friends are complaining about the job, discipline and pupil behaviour is way down the list of complaints.
Are all Reg education articles written by trolls?
"very few forced into teaching".
Yeah. Forcing people into a job always makes them shine with inspiration.
You don't think very highly of non-scientific subjects? Stop watching TV, DVDs and films right now. Because the folk who write them, direct them and perform in them get their qualifications from non-science subjects. Consuming (and enjoying) what they produce without respecting their abilities makes you a hypocrite.
My experience was that most teachers didn't give a damn and the ones who did care were usually too wet to get anyone's attention. I did well despite the teachers I had, not because of them.
Much of my time was spent arguing with teachers because many of the things were either dumbed down to the point of uselessness or plain wrong. Don't think dumbing down is a new thing, either; this was in the early 70s.
From my POV, there's been no serious shake up of education in years. By that I mean a definite approach to the quality of teaching and the subjects taught. Everything - at least since 1970 - has been window dressing, with a grab bag approach of styles more suited to the mindset of the average corporate wonk.
or more of them would be willing to become teachers.
Dunno what it's like in the UK, but in most of the world you have to pay to do another year FT before they let you loose in the schools.
Complete rubbish of course, the actual required content fits into a couple of days, plus two months supervised teaching experience, but the requirement serves to restrict entry, and to employ more staff in the universities.
The rest of the course you spend writing essays, a well known and critical skill for Math/Science teachers.
They've dumbed down education
At a parents evening seven years ago, I asked my daughter's maths teacher in year ten (the one before GCSE), when they would be covering, differentian, integration and solving quadratic equations?
She replied, we don't do that, that's A level. Well, that was all part of my O-level Maths in 1976 so it didn't surprise me that kids are now getting 11, 12 and 13 GCSE's with A*.
In my time at school, we covered eight subjects to O-level standard and received a very good grounding in each of them. Now the school day hasn't got any longer but now they cover 12 subjects. That suggests to me they are devoting one third less time to each one to squeeze in the others (unless my maths is wrong).
Education needs to go back to basics, get rid of the continual assessment, where if the mark is not up to scratch, the kids redo it so that it is, and teach the essentials, Maths, English and proper sciences, not this namby pamby, half-baked double award.
Anybody who majors in astrophysics and
expects to be employed in the private sector is not as bright as they think they are. I know, its what I started in. Granted the US system is different, but when I started I knew full well that after 4 years for my major, I could look forward to another 2-3 for a Masters, and then another 2-3 for a PhD before I would finally start fighting for a job work at a university.
Along about the end of the third year it finally penetrated my rather thick skull that arithmetic and I don't get along well and that while some logical thinking and geometry could get me through most of calculus it wasn't going to get me through differential equations, matrices, and vector calculus. At which point I transferred to my "get me the hell out of here" degree and went into technical writing. Did a stint as a desktop publisher and now work full time supporting computers.
The path less trodden
W-a-y back in the late 80s when I did my GCSEs, we had to do maths, english, physics, French and RE (yes forced to do a religion qualification) and then we could choose 3 other subjects, I did electronics, chemistry and CDT. Even back then for some strange reason i knew I wanted to do computer stuff. Though if the teachers concerned didn't think you were up for the choice subject, then you wouldn't be able to take it, hence why I wasn't allowed to take IT. Meanwhile the float-along attitude that I had naturally assumed that I'd bounce from GCSE to A Level to degree as long as I got the results.
Anyway flash forward 2 years and once again choice time for A Levels. And once again the teachers could use veto to allow you in/out of a subject, plus use the choice of GCSEs for/against you. So I took computing, electronics, industrial (business) studies. But we also had to take general studies and in the 1st year take GCSE science in society (whatever that was).
The lack of A Level maths did stop me applying to some places for a computing degree which required it, but I managed to get a few offers. Ironically "generally not accepted studies" (as we called it) probably helped my cause a bit as my electroncs result was a bit below par.
Admittedly I hit maths a few times during my degree, and I did find it a bit of a struggle. But I'm still sure that I would have failed A Level maths miserably.
So it all worked out for me, and I'm now a sys admin. But I can see how though a variety of reasons if the 'wrong' subjects are taken in secondary school then potentailly it could mess things up later on. And as at least one other person has mentioned, who honestly knows what they want to do at 14?
A classroom refugee
Posting anonymously as it would not be fair if the school was identified. It was better than most, and a lot better than some.
I am part of the Maths and Physics teacher shortage. I did 25 years at the chalk face reaching head of Physics and Electronics and Deputy Head of Science in a large comprehensive at about the time that the national curriculum was introduced. First the Head of Chemistry retired with stress related illness, then the Head of Biology. I spotted the signs and gave up the head of department. After a couple of years it became clear that I was not going to recover properly if I remained in teaching so I changed career and took a pay rise of about a third.
So what caused the stress? Well 2 or 3 hours an evening trying to compensate for lack of text books and lack of equipment was part of it. Like many schools the head had a theory that we didn't need both books and equipment so we got the same money as books only subjects. Discipline was good in that school but that didn't stoop the unremitting day in, day out, grind. There was the ever present threat of allegations. There was the ever present threat of a new secretary of state. Within a few weeks, months if we were lucky, there would be yet another initiative to be implemented in our free time and with nothing to pay for new teaching materials or equipment. Need more beakers? How about jam jars? I am not joking, that was a serious suggestion.
Science in primary schools? In the main best left to the secondary schools. It is much easier to teach it right if you don't first have to unteach what has been taught wrong. It is also much easier to interest kids if you are not reteaching the same stuff.
With the national curriculum practical work changed to entirely coursework and it became a travesty of both science and assessment. We got very good results. How? We gave the kids a tick list and told them to make sure that they did each of the things listed. Don't worry your little head about what the words mean. If this happens use these words and get the mark.
Q: Sir, why are we doing this?
A: Because you won't get the marks unless you do. The system was so obscure as to make any further explanation near impossible.
Practical skills were almost completely abolished by the National Curriculum. Which is really more important for a lower ability child, to write down words that they don't really understand because that will get them marks or learn how to use a ruler?
For most of the kids it was totally inappropriate. For those for whom it was appropriate it was so artificial and divorced from real science as to be a turn off. It became a jumping through hoops exercise but that got results, that pushed the school up the league tables, that got parents to send their children too the school, and with luck it would reduce the hassle of Ofsted. Don't get me going about Ofsted. We were doing a good job, but the paper work required to prove that we were doing a good job was absolutely horrendous. If it couldn't be measured then it didn't matter.
Health and safety was another problem area. I taught a few lessons which really were dangerous compared to science lessons, and which really did have serious accidents (not at the school I was at) from time to time. Guess which ones did not require a risk assessment? Swimming lessons of course.
As for CDT (Craft Design Technology) that was an even worse joke. Craft skills were not taught, well not to any worthwhile level. Design was taught, even if totally inappropriate to the ability and aspirations of the pupil.
No Text Books ??
Are you writing about Zimbabwe ?