Thursday 21 September 2017

Maths crisis: Just don’t ask Minister Quinn for answers

> Minister lacks key facts to tackle crisis
>Thousands of new pupils face old problem

Katherine Donnelly and Breda Heffernan

EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn has no idea how many unqualified maths teachers are working in second-level schools, and lacks key facts and figures that would help halt the crisis undermining the key subject.

The lack of decisive action at the Department of Education means students going back to school this year face the same fate as this year's crop of leavers.

Many of them will be asked to tackle the maths syllabus without a maths graduate guiding them.

Despite the crisis in maths performance worsening year by year, the Irish Independent can reveal:

> The current minister does not have a basic breakdown of which schools are short of qualified staff.

> There has been no study into the link between a lack of qualified maths teachers and the grades achieved by students at specific schools.

> Mr Quinn could not provide figures on how many maths teachers would retire this year, and how many new ones would be recruited.

This year's Leaving Cert maths results were just as bad as last year. A worrying 10pc of ordinary level candidates failed the exam, while at higher level, fewer pupils sat the exam and there was a drop in A grades.

The situation is likely to worsen as fewer qualified maths teachers are coming into the system -- and young maths graduates with the skills to teach are instead attracted by lucrative jobs in the private sector.

At the same time, older teachers -- who are more likely to hold a relevant qualification -- are being encouraged to retire early under cutbacks.

The minister said this week that poor Leaving Cert maths results were a problem and "we need to address this issue".

But after a series of questions posed by the Irish Independent, it appears that little or no research has been done into the root cause of the problem.

Mr Quinn failed to address queries about if and when his department would contact all 730 secondary schools to find out if they had enough qualified maths teachers.

Location

He was unable to provide information on any studies that might provide crucial information on where the problem is most acute. There appears to have been no studies into the location of unqualified maths teachers, either on a geographical basis or in terms of the type of school in which they work.

Little or nothing has been done to identify the effect on students of being taught by an unqualified maths teacher during second level.

Meanwhile, Junior Education Minister Sean Sherlock, who has been given the job of overseeing an improvement in maths performance in the short term, did not return calls.

Years of disappointing maths results have seen a string of education ministers promise change, and various initiatives have been introduced including the much vaunted Project Maths and bonus points for next year's Leaving Cert.

But quality of teaching is now regarded as the key factor in improving maths performance -- and yet as many as half of all maths teachers are not qualified in the subject.

The National Parents' Council (NPC) last night called on the minister to get to grips with the problem and to carry out an immediate audit on the number of unqualified teachers.

NPC spokeswoman Rose Tully said it was "crazy" that the minister did not know how many schools had unqualified maths teachers.

"It is possible to pinpoint which schools are having problems by asking each school to submit a list of the qualifications their teachers have and which subject areas they are teaching. There could be a time limit placed on this of the end of October," she suggested.

The Teaching Council, which is responsible for registering teachers, said there were currently 4,062 teachers qualified to teach maths in Ireland.

However, not all of these are currently teaching -- meaning the true number of qualified maths teachers is even fewer.

"Registration gives teachers a licence to teach. However, it is a matter for employers to satisfy themselves that the teachers they employ are qualified to teach the subject for which they are employed and to deploy them accordingly," said a council spokesperson.

The minister's response to the Irish Independent last night included the number of qualified maths teachers, alongside details of the schools inspection programme and the Project Maths initiative. But he failed to address all but one of the key questions posed.

"The assignment of teacher to teaching duties is a matter for school management," his spokeswoman said.

But a Teaching Council spokesperson said: "It is my understanding that it is a matter for the Department of Education and Skills to monitor the situation."

Irish Independent

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