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Millions Of GCSE Lessons Taught By Non-Specialist Teachers

Many teachers are teaching GCSE subjects that they do not hold an A-level in (Alamy)

4 min read

GCSE pupils across the UK have had more than 75 million lessons taught by non-specialist teachers in the last two years, according to research carried out by the Liberal Democrats.

The findings show that the average GCSE pupil will have had one in 10 lessons with a teacher who does not specialise in the subject they are teaching.

Some subjects are particularly affected by this, with 12.2 per cent of maths lessons and 19.9 per cent of modern language lessons being taught by non-specialists.

For a teacher to be classed as a ‘specialist’ to teach a GCSE subject, they have to have achieved at least an A-level or higher qualification in that subject. 

Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive their GCSE results on Thursday, with around 300,000 fewer top grades expected due to grading standards returning to pre-pandemic levels, according to the exam regulator Ofqual. 

Liberal Democrat MP and education spokesperson Munira Wilson called on the government to put in place a “proper schools workforce strategy” to tackle the shortage of specialist teachers. 

“Liberal Democrats are calling on the government to fund teacher training properly, reform the School Teachers’ Review Body to make it properly independent of Government and to introduce a clear and properly funding programme of high-quality professional development for all teachers,” Wilson told PoliticsHome. 

“Teachers should be experts in their field to ensure students are engaged, inspired and equipped to succeed.

"But this Conservative Government has let our children down by missing recruitment targets year after year, allowing experienced teachers to leave in their droves.”

The research casts further doubt on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to continue maths education for all pupils up to age 18 if there are not enough specialist teachers to implement it. 

In a speech in April, Sunak said the government would change how the system works to ensure every pupil studies “some form of maths” up to 18, but that the change would not happen “overnight”.

“Let me also be clear that we’re not going to deliver this change overnight,” the Prime Minister said.

“We’re going to need to recruit and train the maths teachers. We’re going to work out how to harness technology that we need to support them.

“We’ve got to value maths, and what it can do for our children’s futures. Giving our children a world class education is the single most important thing we can do.”

He said the government’s first step would be to identify the maths content and skills that would be most useful for 16-18 year olds, and then would “come back” with a detailed plan on how to deliver the initiative. 


Rishi Sunak criticised the UK’s “anti-maths mindset” and defended his plan to make maths education compulsory up to the age of 18 #rishisunak #primeminister #maths #mathematics #stem #education #school #politics #ukpolitics

♬ original sound - PoliticsHome

However, the announcement was met with criticism from teachers and education leaders who said there was already an issue with recruiting enough maths teachers for under-16s. 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), told PoliticsHome there were “not enough teachers” to deliver the plan and that in order to improve recruitment and retention, the government would have to offer “substantial improvement” to teachers’ pay.

“The government offers training bursaries in maths, and a number of other subjects, to incentivise uptake,” he said.

“However, this does not solve the underlying problem that teaching salaries are just not sufficiently competitive in the graduate jobs market, and it isn’t possible to recruit the number of teachers needed in general, and particularly in subjects such as maths and physics, on these salary levels.” 

In response to the new Lib Dem research, Wilson agreed that extra funding and staff would be needed to implement more maths education.

“The Prime Minister's plan to continue maths teaching to 18 means nothing without the extra funding and staff to make it happen,” she told PoliticsHome.

“You don't need a maths A-Level to know it takes more teachers to teach maths to age 18 than to 16. But schools are already struggling with a shortage of maths teachers, and the Conservatives have no plan to turn that around”.

The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

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