Tuesday 20 March 2018

Pressure mounting on Quinn over maths crisis

Confusion over the number of qualified teachers in our schools

Breda Heffernan, David Whelan and Louise Hogan

EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn is facing new pressure to act on the second-level maths crisis as confusion continues over the true number of unqualified maths teachers in our schools.

A survey ordered by Mr Quinn and published yesterday claimed that 30pc of secondary school maths teachers did not have a full maths teaching qualification. However, the Irish Independent has learned that just a third of the country's schools took part in the hastily assembled research by the Teaching Council, raising questions over the validity of the findings.

Previous research had indicated almost half of maths teachers were not fully qualified. Further questions have also been raised about Mr Quinn's response to the crisis after it emerged that under-skilled teachers will not be forced to take new courses being introduced to improve the standard of their teaching.

The revelations came as an Irish Independent investigation found most schools do not want to reveal whether or not they have unqualified maths teachers on their staff.

Of 724 secondary schools contacted by the Irish Independent over the past two weeks, just 45 confirmed their maths teachers were fully qualified. The continued lack of detailed information on the number of qualified maths teachers will only serve to intensify calls for a root-and-branch investigation of the issue.

The use of unqualified teachers has been identified as a major factor in the current crisis in maths teaching at second level, with more than 4,000 students failing the subject in this year's Leaving Cert.

Yesterday, Research Minister Sean Sherlock announced plans to tackle the issue by up-skilling under-qualified maths teachers through a combination of online learning and lectures.

His announcement came just two weeks after Mr Quinn admitted he did not know how many unqualified teachers were teaching maths classes.

The Department of Education and Skills insisted last night that these new courses would be enough to bring unqualified teachers up to the level of colleagues who have a full university maths qualification.

However, it will be next year before these courses can begin. The department also admitted it will not be able to force unqualified teachers to enrol in the up-skilling courses.

It said although the courses would be voluntary rather than mandatory, it expected a “high take-up”. Mr Sherlock said: “I want to get to a situation where all teachers of maths have a maths qualification.”

The Teaching Council, which is responsible for registering teachers and governing professional standards, said there are 4,062 teachers qualified to teach maths. However, it does not know how many of these teachers are actually working in schools.

Retired teachers and those working in other areas often maintain a registration to be able to do short-term work. Problems The problems arising with maths have been rumbling on for many years with the issue landing on the desk of successive education ministers including former Fianna Fail TDs Mary Coughlan, Batt O'Keeffe and Mary Hanafin.

The stark scale of the problem was highlighted after this year's Leaving Cert maths results were criticised as being particularly poor. Just 10,000 students took the subject at higher level and 10pc of those sitting the ordinary paper failed.

Leading multinational firms have pinpointed poor results in maths as damaging Ireland's chance of competing on the world stage. Dr Craig Barrett, former CEO of Intel, has warned the shortage of properly trained maths teachers is one of the top 10 issues Ireland must address.

‘The full list of schools who have confirmed their maths teachers are fully qualified is published in today’s Irish Independent print edition.’

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