Imagine being a professional tennis player and getting asked to play for a professional football and rugby team on the side – you might know a thing or two about these sports, you might even be pretty good at them, but they’re hardly your areas of expertise and skill. In the same way, you’d hardly expect a university lecturer who specialises in early modern European history to be an expert on contemporary fiction – they might read some in their free time, but they’re probably unlikely to be able to teach a module on it. So why do we expect teachers in secondary schools and academies to have this sort of transferable knowledge?
A recent survey by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has suggested that 73% of secondary school leaders polled were having to put teachers “not trained in the subject they were teaching in front of classes”. In certain subjects this is particularly bad: maths, where this figure is at 78%, the sciences at 75%, and English at 57%. It’s important to acknowledge that the teachers put in this position – usually non-specialists or supply staff – are often doing a great job in trying circumstances, but can we really afford to lose permanent, specialised teachers in our secondary schools, especially in core subjects?
The primary cause of this situation hardly needs explaining: teacher shortages. And the cause of teacher shortages? The ASCL have a number of suggestions: a “rise in the birth rate, the squeeze on public-sector employees’ pay and the easing of the economic crisis – opening up more jobs outside the profession” as well as the “rising cost of pension and national insurance contributions” making it harder to afford higher salaries. To this we might add how increasingly time-poor teachers are, and suddenly it looks like a vicious circle: would-be teachers are put off the profession by long hours and poor pay, while those in the profession are put under even greater pressure to perform.
As Malcolm Trobe, ASCL general secretary, has suggested, the use of non-specialist, non-permanent teachers in classrooms is a “stop-gap” solution to the structural questions posed by the teaching shortage crisis, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be a struggle – with the right resources, schools can ensure a beneficial situation for both student and teacher. We think SAM Learning is one of those resources: with over 70,000 activities across all national curriculum subjects, as well as Share – allowing teachers to share best practice across the wider SAM Community, up and down the country – teachers working in subject areas outside of their expertise are able to set high quality work and assess their student’s performance with ease.
Of course, ultimately solutions to these problems need to come from the top – but rather than wait for those changes to take place, it’s important have the right strategy to approaching the issue today.