Saturday, 4 May 2013

Survey season - the gap between state and independent education

It seems to be the season for surveys and some of them indicate an alarming gap between the standards I would expect in my school and that which is available to pupils in the state sector.

We recruit teachers based on the premise that they hold at least a university degree in the subject they teach.  However, the Department for Education census suggests many pupils in the maintained sector are being taught by teachers without that level of knowledge.  

Here are the statistics showing the proportion of state school teachers who do not hold a relevant qualification higher than an A-level in the subject they teach.

  • Almost one in four (23.1%) maths teachers - around 7,500.
  • A fifth (20.1%) of English teachers - around 7,300 in total.  
  • More than a third of physics teachers (around 2,000 teachers).
  • Half of those teaching Spanish (around 3,400).
  • More than two in five religious education teachers (around 6,500).

In Science it is crucial that pupils have the opportunity to carry out practical work in the laboratory.  However a study carried out by the Science Community Representing Education (a coalition of organisations including the Royal Society, Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry) indicates that this is not always possible.

Prof Julia Buckingham, SCORE chairwoman, says: “Taking part in practical work is an integral and essential part of learning the sciences, but our findings indicate that teachers do not feel equipped to give their students the full learning experience that they should be able to.  Practical work is being limited by missing equipment and a lack of access to appropriate facilities such as laboratories and outside space.”  The study also found that in state-funded secondary schools, an average of 28 per cent of the practical science budget was spent on photocopying.

I was recently sent a link to a survey from the Department for Education which I could not complete as it was for state rather than independent schools.  It was asking how much time was allocated to sport and physical exercise and, from the way the questions were phrased and the suggested lengths of time, indicated a worryingly low level of activity in maintained schools.

All this leaves me with two feelings.  First, that I hugely appreciate the opportunities we are able to give our pupils.  Secondly, that there is a great deal of media coverage given to Michael Gove's proposed reforms to exams while underlying issues like these deserve greater scrutiny.