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Unions Say Government Must Improve Teacher Pay To Deliver Plans For Maths To 18

Rishi Sunak giving his speech on maths education at the London Screen Academy (Alamy)

4 min read

There are “not enough teachers” for Rishi Sunak to deliver his plans for compulsory maths to 18, unions have warned today, as schools struggle with recruitment and retention.

One boss has said that the Treasury will need to make more money available for teacher pay if Sunak’s intentions to tackle what he calls an “anti-maths mindset” are to become a reality. 

The Prime Minister announced a review of the subject at a speech in London this morning, as a group of experts will now consider how all pupils in England can study maths in some way until 18, without making an A-Level compulsory.  

However, Sunak admitted that the changes would not be able to happen “overnight” and that “we’re going to need to recruit and train the maths teachers.”

Figures from the Department for Education show that teacher recruitment targets in maths have been missed every year since 2012/13. The number of trainees recruited did not meet the required target despite the Department for Education (DfE) reducing its target for maths trainees in 2022 by 27 per cent, from 2,800 to 2,040. That year, 1,800 teachers signed up, with most years also seeing the target missed by a similar proportion of around 10 per cent.

As a result, "many schools... often have to use staff who are not subject specialists”, according to Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL). 

He told PoliticsHome today: “The government offers training bursaries in maths, and a number of other subjects, to incentivise uptake. 

“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.” 

Barton called for a “substantial improvement” to teachers’ pay to help address the issues. “This will require new funding from the Treasury but this is a question of what we, as a nation, regard as our priorities, and it seems to us that the future of children should be at the top of the list,” he added. 

There were similar concerns from Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, who said that  “after 13 years in government there are not enough teachers to deliver the Prime Minister’s vision” and called on ministers to “urgently get a grip of this workforce crisis in education” as policies “are not bringing in enough new teachers.”

She added: “Of his proposals on maths education, the Prime Minister says ‘we’ll need to recruit and train the maths teachers’ but he does not explain how the government will do this.” 

In his speech this morning, Sunak criticised what he called a "cultural issue" in how maths is perceived, and said that it needs to be "prized" as a "key skill". 

"We make jokes about not being able to do maths," he told the audience at the London Screen Academy. 

"We say things like: “Oh, maths, I can’t do that, it’s not for me” – and everyone laughs, but we’d never make a joke like that about not being able to read.

"So we’ve got to change this anti-maths mindset. We’ve got to start prizing numeracy for what it is – a key skill every bit as essential as reading." 

It comes as teachers in England are due to go on strike again at the end of next week, in their long-running dispute with the government over pay. 

Members of the National Education Union are expected to walk out on Thursday 27 April and Tuesday 2 May, on either side of the first May Bank Holiday weekend. Earlier this month, members rejected an offer of a £1,000 one-off payment and pay rise of just over 4 per cent.  

At the time, the NEU said the offer showed “an astounding lack of judgement and understanding of the desperate situation in the education system.”

Unions want pay increases to be above inflation and funded so that the cash does not come out of existing school budgets. 

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