Maths PhDs made to count in new plans

Maths and physics PhDs in their first two years of teaching are to be offered a salary of £40,000, it has been revealed this week. The scheme’s main aim is to get more people to study either subject for a longer period of time; due to a decline in the numbers of those wishing to teach these subjects. Maths and physics are two particularly weak areas in education for the United Kingdom and we are falling down international league tables for grades within these subjects.

This scheme will be available only to those who have a PhD in either maths or physics; who, following the scheme, will become known as ‘maths and physics chairs’. No teaching qualification will be required from them, as training will be done on the job. T

he increased wage of £40,000 will only be available during the first two years of teaching, but it has been said that it will remain at that level for a third year if the PhD fellows complete a third year of teaching. This wage is far higher than the average wage for a newly qualified teacher, which varies from £21,000 to £27,000.

The two-year pay scheme also aims to create links between schools and businesses and networks between schools through the teaching of master classes. During their first year the scheme members will train, including through doing some classroom work, and this is followed by teaching a reduced timetable in their second year, which will allow them to both undertake and promote research while championing university access in schools.

The scheme will be beneficial in the sense that it aims to encourage more PhD fellows into the teaching profession. Their expansive knowledge on their particular subject, the government hopes, will inspire a greater number of students to go into Higher Education or teaching.

Funding for the scheme is being provided by major employers such as GlaxoSmithKline, Nationwide Building Society, Samsung and BAE Systems. The sponsors will each contribute £75,000 over three years towards the scheme, covering extra costs such as the increased pay rate itself and providing training for the new teachers in question.

The scheme is not without its drawbacks. To begin with, the scheme will only apply to non-selective state schools. In reality, there are few maths and physics PhD students both in general terms and wanting a career in teaching, so people are still going to have to want to teach for this scheme to work.

It could also be argued that these PhDs would be utilised better elsewhere, such as in Higher Education institutions like Cardiff University. We should not assume that a financial incentive for a maximum of the first three years of teaching is enough for people to forge a lifelong career in the profession. The scheme also assumes that their academic qualifications are sufficient for them to be teachers as they will only undertake teacher training qualifications while on the job.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which takes place every three years, notes that in 2012 pupils from a sample performed around average in mathematics when compared with the rest of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, with boys outperforming girls. Science performance from this sample was above average.

What is important to take from the PISA surveys is the fact that there have been no changes in the performance in these subjects when compared with the 2006 and 2009 results – the UK education system is not getting us better results. Perhaps the new funding for and physics PhD fellows will improve our education systems and the results that they produce.

Anne Porter