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Government fails to meet target for recruiting computing teachers

The number of postgraduates choosing to start training for a career in teaching computing did not meet the government’s targets for the 2016/17 academic year

The government has failed to meet its target for the number of postgraduates who choose to enter initial teacher training to become computing teachers.

Only 68% of the government’s target for the 2016/17 academic year was met, meaning only 495 places were filled out of the target of 723 applicants for computing postgraduate teacher training.

A report from the Commons Education Select Committee found recruitment for computing teachers was the subject area under the English Baccalaureate programme which missed its recruitment target by the most over the past year.

The number of trainees recruited to learn how to teach computing has dropped since the academic year of 2015/16, which met 70% of the government’s 723 trainee target.

Martin Thompson of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers labelled the current situation a “crisis”. He told the Commons Education Select Committee in charge of releasing the figures that teaching recruitment has been “a challenge for probably a number of years and, for three years, an increasing challenge”.

Computing was not the only science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subject struggling to meet its targets for new teachers, with only 81% of the target number of physics trainees recruited, 84% of the target number of maths teachers recruited and 41% of the target number of design and technology teachers recruited.

In 2014, the computing curriculum was launched in the UK making it mandatory for children between the ages of five and 16 to learn computational thinking, but the education sector is struggling to find teachers, especially at primary level, with specialist skills.

Recruitment for primary-level teachers is meeting government targets year-on-year but, as they are often trained in many subject areas, it can be difficult to find teachers with specialist Stem skills, and many will be teaching subjects outside of their knowledge specialism.

There is also a shortage of secondary school teachers choosing to specialise in Stem subjects. In the 2014/15 academic year, one in every five maths and physics graduates would need to train to become teachers to meet the requirements for teachers of those subjects.

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As well as a lack of teachers who are trained and willing to teach computing, there is a lack of people with the technology skills needed to take up unfilled technology roles across the UK.  

Ash Merchant, education director at Fujitsu, said the report highlighted “the urgency of the skills gap in the UK”.

“The lack of teachers being encouraged into Stem-related roles begs concern for the next generation of schools leavers who are at risk of being ill-equipped for the industries they’ll soon find themselves competing to enter,” said Merchant.

There is also a lack of continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers due to time constraints and a lack of clear provision for CPD in England, but CPD is vital for some subjects, particularly in the Stem industry due to its rapid pace of change.

CPD usually acts as additional training for teachers to ensure they are gaining new skills and staying on top of their knowledge of their subject area – which can change rapidly in technology.

Andy Mitchell from the Design and Technology Association told the committee that for many subject areas teachers are teaching subjects outside of their specialism.

“In mathematics, 18% of teaching time is by people who do not have a post A-level qualification in that subject, and that varies. For physics, it is 25%,” he said.

The Commons Education Select Committee said the government needs to implement a long-term strategy for addressing the shortage of teachers in England to be put into action over the next 10 years.

The plan should include a strategy on how to focus recruitment for specific regions where teacher shortages are higher, initiatives and investment directed according to industry evidence and a plan for how these initiatives will be evaluated.

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