Mathematics and Science in Secondary Schools: The Deployment of Teachers and Support Staff to Deliver the Curriculum

mathematics and science in secondary schools

Commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), this resource is a summary of the findings of a largely quantitative survey into the deployment of teachers and support staff of mathematics and science in 25% of maintained secondary schools in England. Data was obtained from postal questionnaires to heads and teachers of mathematics and science and a survey of support staff assisting in mathematics and science departments.  Twelve schools, chosen for exemplifying good practices in mathematics or science, were also visited. The research was undertaken for the DfES by the NFER.

Key findings were that:

  • many teachers (24%) were teaching mathematics without either a mathematics degree or a specialism in mathematics in their Initial Teacher Training (ITT);
  • non-mathematics specialists were teaching mathematics more frequently in the lowest attaining schools, those serving areas of socio-economic deprivation and in 11-16 schools;
  • groups of ‘lower ability' pupils in mathematics were more likely to be taught by teachers without a post-16 qualification in mathematics;
  • although 93% of teachers teaching science held a science degree or had a science subject as a specialism in ITT, a significant proportion (44%) held qualifications in biology and many, especially 11-16 schools had no physics specialist;
  • at AS/A2 levels in separate science subjects significant teaching was undertaken by those without a degree in that subject;
  • priority of staffing was given to nationally assessed year groups and courses.

The summary reveals a worrying shortage of specialist teachers in mathematics, physics and chemistry, a disturbing lack of relevant qualifications of non-specialists teaching these subjects and the lack of specialist teachers teaching specific deprived groups of pupils. The degree of job satisfaction of the different groups is revealed. The statistical analysis provides a persuasive argument and supports the findings of previous studies, but the summary lacks qualitative detail that would make the report more informative  to ITT trainees.

The summary lends weight to the underlying assumption that better qualified teachers automatically provide better teaching. The report makes no attempt to examine the quality of the teaching provided by specialists and non-specialists and there is no examination of the specialism of non-specialists which might be significant. Teachers of mathematics and science, especially heads of department (HoDs) were reported to be unhappy about their workload and pupil behaviour. Although multiple regression analysis revealed that departmental shortage of specialist staff was a strong significant predictor of overall professional dissatisfaction, there was no evidence to link pupil behaviour directly with non-specialist teaching: this might be a conclusion drawn by the reader. Surprisingly, little reference was made to specific aspects of ‘good practice' encountered in the schools visited and no explanation of how non-specialists were supported, or not, in their teaching.

This report has relevance to mathematics and science specialists likely to work in schools typical of those in the survey. Trainees specialising in mathematics, physics and chemistry need to be aware that their subject may well be taught by non-specialists in their placement schools. The findings of this survey hold particular relevance for those trainees who are highly qualified and/or mature entrants who may well gain rapid promotion following ITT. These trainees may well have to manage the reality of teacher shortage and the deployment of non-specialists teachers early in their teaching career.

The report offers a wealth of opportunities for discussion of issues with trainees. For example:

  • Do the best qualified specialist teachers always make the best teachers of their subject?
  • What counts as ‘good teaching' in their subject?
  • What positive things might non-specialists bring to the teaching of their subject?
  • How can non-specialists best be supported in teaching their subject?
  • How can learning support assistants (LSAs) and/or science technicians be helped to better support pupil learning?
  • What factors contribute to and account for pupil behaviour?

Reviewed by:
Judith Roden


Mathematics teaching, Science teaching, teacher satisfaction, teaching assistants, Science technicians

Authors :

Moor, H., Jones, M., Johnson, F., Martin, K., Cowell, E., and Bojke, C.

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