Report finds big variation in recruitment activity across school types and regions

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Science teacher recruitment data in England between 2016 and 2017 shows ‘substantial inequalities’ in the system with parts of the country and certain types of school more likely to recruit specialist science teachers, according to a new report.

The report, commissioned by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, finds that Ofsted rated ‘Outstanding’ schools are more likely to seek specialist science teachers than those deemed ‘Inadequate’. Grammar schools, single-sex schools, rural schools and some faith schools also show high levels of specialist science teacher recruitment. Schools in less affluent areas as well as in those in coastal regions or with high numbers of low-attaining pupils tend to advertise for general science teachers rather than specialists.

It is vital we recruit sufficient levels of specialist teachers, particularly in schools that need them the most

Jenni French, programme manager at Gatsby, comments, ‘Previous studies have shown specialist physics teachers are a powerful predictor of pupil achievement and progression to further study. This report shows some schools are not even advertising for specialist biology, physics and chemistry teachers, creating even greater inequalities in the system. It is vital we recruit sufficient levels of specialist teachers, particularly in schools that need them the most.’

Overall, there was a nearly 16% increase in science teacher recruitment from 2016 to 2017. Meanwhile, adverts for specialist science teachers declined by 0.4% even though adverts for general science teachers are no more successful than those for specialists.

There was also variation between the three sciences with the number of adverts mentioning chemistry increasing by 13.9%, and physics and biology both falling by around 3.4%. This could be because adverts often stipulate chemistry with physics or chemistry with biology.

Science teacher recruitment activity varied across the country in the same period – the South West, Yorkshire and The Humber, and the East Midlands saw increases of around 40%, while the North West saw a decline of -2.5%. However, Timo Hannay, data analyst for the report, points out that, ‘While year-on-year, Yorkshire and The Humber showed a big increase in recruitment activity, it has in fact low levels of science teacher recruitment when compared to the number of teachers in this region.’ In addition, the data shows low levels of science teacher recruitment indicates low levels of specialist recruitment. The North West falls into this category, while schools in London and the South East show high recruitment activity and high levels of specialist recruitment.

The report forms part of Gatsby’s work towards increasing the recruitment and retention of high quality specialist science teachers in UK schools. Bryn Jones, senior science lecturer in the school of education at Liverpool John Moores University comments, ‘This is a fascinating report, and inevitably recruitment is complex and distorted but there are many other questions that come to mind before drawing any policy conclusions. For example, to what extent does funding, proximity of a teacher training provider or the degree to which the expansion of the salaried route into teaching play a part?’