Friday 23 February 2018

Half of nation's maths teachers aren't qualified to teach subject

Katherine Donnelly

HALF the country's maths teachers are not qualified to teach the subject, according to a shocking new report.

The lack of qualified teachers is a key reason for the poor performance of Irish teenagers in the subject, the report concludes. The findings will set more alarm bells ringing about the lack of readiness of Irish school-leavers for the smart economy, on which future prosperity hinges.

Competence in maths is regarded as key to building the critical thinking skills necessary for the workplace of the future. Teacher quality is regarded as a key factor affecting student learning, but the report found that 48pc of post-primary maths teachers don't have the proper qualification.

The authors say that while the problem is not unique to Ireland "it represents an immediate challenge of sizeable proportion". The startling 48pc figure is worse than previously thought and may even be an understatement of the true situation because some teachers didn't respond to the survey.

The report from the National Centre for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and Learning at the University of Limerick (UL) is the most comprehensive study ever on maths teachers qualifications in Ireland.

Its main findings include:

  • 48pc of second-level school maths teachers don't have a proper qualification, and most of them have degrees in science or business studies.
  • Younger and weaker students are most often taught by teachers without a maths qualification.
  • A downward trend in the number of maths teachers with a proper qualification from 65pc among those aged over 35 to 40pc of those aged under 35.

Most second-level teachers have a post-graduate teaching qualification on top of a primary degree. But teachers who did not study maths as part -- or a major part -- of their primary degree are not precluded from teaching it at second level.

The report bluntly states: "One reason for the poor quality of mathematics teaching is the high proportion of teachers of mathematics in post-primary schools that have no qualification in mathematics teaching.

"The negative impact of these teachers is accentuated by their concentrated deployment in the early years of junior cycle where students attitude and abilities need to be nurtured."

Report co-author Ailish Hannigan said they found a "significant divide between students who are taught by qualified mathematics teachers and those who are taught by out-of-field teachers of mathematics, with younger and weaker students most often taught by out-of-field teachers" .

Senior project officer Dr Maire Ni Riordain said it was important to establish effective mathematics teaching for all year groups in junior and senior cycles as this was a significant contributory factor in student success in mathematics at all levels. Irish 15-year-olds rate only average internationally in terms of performance in maths, which is attributed to their lack of problem-solving abilities. Poor maths standards are increasingly fuelling fears that Irish school-leavers are ill-prepared for a more technological global economy.


Leading multinational employers have repeatedly warned that poor results in maths are damaging Ireland's chance of competing on the world stage.

The shortage of properly trained maths teachers was one of the issues raised last week by Dr Craig Barrett, the former CEO and chairman of Intel, who said it was one of the top 10 things that Ireland must address.

Dr Barrett said the day of relying on foreign direct investment for jobs was over.

Increasing numbers of students are turning away from higher-level maths because of the time involved, while about 10pc of ordinary-level students fail the subject every year.

Low maths standards among second-level students is linked to a worryingly low uptake of third-level courses in important areas of science, engineering and technology. However, maths proficiency is deemed essential for a wide range of careers where there is an increasing need to process and analyse complex information.

Teacher quality is one of the main focuses of a high-level working party set up by Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe to investigate how to improve national maths performance.

The Government has invested in a new hands-on maths teaching programme, Project Maths, which is being gradually rolled out in schools.

Irish Independent

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