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Teaching maths when you only have GCSE

(105 Posts)
xsquared Tue 19-Jun-18 19:34:28

Not me, but I have several colleagues whose subject specialism is not maths, but either because of a shortage of qualified maths teachers, or for whatever reason, they are teaching numeracy or maths up to GCSE foundation level.

Don't get me wrong, I am not a snob and there are plenty of effective teachers who are not officially "qualified". On the other hand, I have seen several examples of poor understanding of maths from the teacher, leading to giving wrong information to the class.

What is there to do? Nobody wants to teach maths anymore.

BlessYourCottonSocks Tue 19-Jun-18 19:38:12

There are, sadly, many teachers teaching subjects which are not their specialism. And always have been. If you are a qualified teacher you are expected to teach whatever your HT deems is reasonable.

And at least people have a GCSE/O level in Maths. How do you fancy teaching RS when you didn't have to do it at school? Or Geography when you dropped it in Y9 - because that is considered acceptable too. Nothing special about Maths.

xsquared Tue 19-Jun-18 19:43:03

Bless, except geography and RS are optional and do not take as many number of hours to teach. Maths is also a subject where many colleges and work places ask for at least GCSE grade C.

The lowest point was observing a colleague telling the pupils "minus minus makes plus" and the question was something like -6-4.

unfortunateevents Tue 19-Jun-18 19:43:06

As you said, what is there to do? There seem to be shortages of teachers in every subject, no-one wants to go into the profession, lots of teachers are leaving to do other things, no teachers seem to want to encourage people to enter the profession - it's all very worrying.

TeenTimesTwo Tue 19-Jun-18 19:45:06

That's seriously depressing.

CuckooCuckooClock Tue 19-Jun-18 19:51:23

It's a real shame there's not more support for people teaching outside their specialism.
I see it loads in science. Lots of science teachers only did physics up to GCSE, where they only did dual award, so not even a full GCSE, and then get given a top set separate physics class and don't understand what they're teaching.
Crap for the kids, crap for the teacher.

CuckooCuckooClock Tue 19-Jun-18 19:55:40

I had to teach DT in my nqt year. I didn't even do GCSE. I had never used the equipment. Sad for the kids who were really keen then got stuck with me!

FinallyHere Tue 19-Jun-18 20:10:48

Actually being taught by someone who has themselves struggled with the concepts, assuming they have now mastered the principles. Being taught by someone who always who found maths easy may not be the best for those who do not immediately 'see' the solutions to maths problems

noblegiraffe Tue 19-Jun-18 20:30:32

colleague telling the pupils "minus minus makes plus" and the question was something like -6-4.


Yeah maths is special. It’s a spiral curriculum that all builds on each other. That colleague will have fucked up future teaching of quite a few topics.

xsquared Tue 19-Jun-18 21:12:56

That’s my point, Finally. This teacher definitely doesn’t have any mastery over the subject, and was teaching the rules without understanding how and where to apply it. Like I said, I do know many teachers who are good at their job without being an expert in maths.

TeenTimesTwo Tue 19-Jun-18 21:48:12

At primary if my DD came home having learned something in maths 'wrong' from the teacher, I happily said she had probably misunderstood and actually it was <whatever>. If they still insisted I pulled rank and said I knew more maths than the teacher so believe me.

There is no way I would expect to have to do that at secondary. I'd be spitting feathers if my DD had been told -6-4 minus minus makes a plus. I have no idea what I'd do though...

LadyLance Tue 19-Jun-18 21:55:58

A fair amount of money is being thrown at getting maths teachers into the profession and to stay in state schools (20-22k to train, 5k after 3 years, 5k after 5 years).

I guess this could be upped even more, but I think part of the problem is that decent maths graduates can earn multiples of a teacher's salary elsewhere. Also, I do think that maths as a degree may attract people who wouldn't enjoy teaching as a career.

10k bonus for returning state school teachers who teach in a school for a year? 10k more after five years? Yearly bonuses for existing maths teachers so they don't leave?

Obviously general working conditions need to be improved too.

I agree that maths is a difficult case- in other subjects you can often recover from holes in your knowledge later on, but this is much harder in maths. Maths ability also impacts on many other subjects, such as science and DT.

xsquared Tue 19-Jun-18 22:11:36

I understand there are various initiatives for training to be a maths teacher and even top up courses for non specialists, so they can teach outside their main subject.

It is the retention of suitable teachers that seem to be the problem.

Our HOD, who was an excellent teacher, well respected, highly qualified and experienced, was bullied out of her job by senior management.

Her departure left us in a low state of morale, but I don’t blame her for putting her mental well-being first.

LadyLance Tue 19-Jun-18 22:38:15

I think by a top up course you might mean an SKE- which is taken before the PGCE and still only offered to people with a semi-related degree, e.g. an economics grads. You also need people to apply in the first place!

Applications for maths teachers are down 20% on last year. Source:

This is after maths recruitment not meeting targets in the 2016/2017 cycle.

So I do think recruitment is an issue, too. At this stage retention alone (whilst extremely important) is not enough to ensure every child has a qualified maths teacher- especially as the secondary age population is starting to rise.

LadyLance Tue 19-Jun-18 22:39:10

Perhaps SLT of schools with poor retention need to be penalised in some way? Especially if people from their school are leaving teaching forever?

xsquared Tue 19-Jun-18 22:47:08

Lady, by “top up” course, I don’t meant graduated from another subject who do a two year PGCE course. I know a few people who have attended twilight sessions for a year, as part of their CPD, learning level 3 maths to improve their understanding of maths, and help them teach maths more confidently.

xsquared Tue 19-Jun-18 22:48:47

I think it was more to do with SLT wanting someone to blame for the poor results. The HOD deserved better. She is no longer teaching.

DrWhy Tue 19-Jun-18 22:53:10

I think LadyLance pretty much has it correct. I was taught a-level maths by someone who wasn’t really a specialist and ended up having private tuition to get the grade I needed, he just didn’t get the concepts enough to explain them to someone else. Although I agree that someone who has struggled with the concepts but then understood them is often a better teacher than someone’s who found it easy.
Having then got an A at A-level and done a numerate degree, teaching maths and/physical sciences would be my really last resort if my current industry fell apart and I really couldn’t find work elsewhere. My pay would be half my current salary at best and the conditions from what I read here and elsewhere are horrendous. I would actually rather enjoy teaching children who wanted to learn but it seems that most of them don’t, it’s almost impossible to control students as you have no meaningful sanctions available or parental back up and you have mountains or marking and paparework. I have no idea how the situation could be changed to attract people like me away from a role in industry to a teaching career.

Temporaryanonymity Tue 19-Jun-18 22:56:27

"she was bullied out by senior management"

Do inspectors look at things like this during their inspections? Governors? I worked in social care and colleague retention and engagement was by far the biggest contributor to the quality of care received by residents. I get that salaries are an issue (although where I live a teacher salary goes a long way) but most of my teacher friends report very poor leadership when we chat about working lives. Why are school leaders such bad people managers?

Leyani Tue 19-Jun-18 22:56:54

I’m horrified. My kid’s too young to have encountered any of this, but what you’re saying explains a lot about what I see in my students. We don’t need maths whiz kids but people who’ve got solid numeric skills and effortless understanding of the basic principles in maths. Instead I get students who can’t even work out a percentage change...

noblegiraffe Tue 19-Jun-18 23:04:23

Why are school leaders such bad people managers?

Because it’s not a priority of the job which focuses on stuff like data, the curriculum and school-running, and all they’ve been trained to do is manage classes of kids.

TheThickenPlots Tue 19-Jun-18 23:12:52

It is depressing. I work in an ‘outstanding’ school and we still struggle to recruit, especially teachers who can teach a level, even just at y12 level. When I started there was competition to teach a level classes! I can’t remember the last time we had a trainee who actually had a maths degree, some of the lack of knowledge is horrifying. Many will work hard to improve that and turn into great teachers. Unfortunately, many others (especially older, more arrogant types) just seem to want to do the bare minimum to pass. But if we set the bar higher who will we actually put in front of classes?

xsquared Wed 20-Jun-18 00:12:06

Temporary, I don't know. We haven't had an inspection for a while due to receiving an "Outstanding" last time. I agree with Noblegiraffe about SLT. Ours seem to be fixated on producing data and spreadsheets that no one else gives a damn about, rather than the well being of their staff.

The salary was definitely not an issue for her. This person was unusual, in that she had a well paid career in the corporate world before she became a teacher. She was relatively young for a HOD.

NewModelArmyMayhem18 Wed 20-Jun-18 09:21:01

I once applied to do teacher training but was totally put off when it was suggested that with a C grade in Maths, I should choose it as my 'second' subject to teach. That sent me running for the hills never to return.

noblegiraffe Wed 20-Jun-18 10:11:42

Please tell me that you at least mean a C at A-level! (All teachers have a C+ at GCSE).

The problem with recruitment/retention is that all the money and focus is going on recruitment and bog-all is going on retention. What with years of pay cuts, pension cuts, workload increases and so on, zero effort has been made to keep experienced maths teachers in the job while throwing thousands and thousands of pounds at trainees who may never go into teaching or quit after a couple of years. Experience is so vital in a department, especially because experienced teachers are needed to train the new teachers. And by experienced, I would say 10+ years. The ones who may be sat at the top of UPS3 seeing their pay go down every year.

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