Mathematics and Science in Secondary Schools: The deployment of teachers and support staff to deliver the curriculum

Kerry Martin, Fiona Johnson, Megan Jones, Helen Moor, Elizabeth Cowell, Chris Bjorke

26 January 2006

Research report available to download from DFE

Research brief available to download from DFE

The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) commissioned the NFER to conduct research into deployment in mathematics and science departments in one in four maintained secondary schools in England during the academic year 2004-2005. The aim of the research was to investigate how teachers and support staff are deployed within school to deliver the curriculum in mathematics and science.

Key Findings

  • Overall, at least 76 per cent of teachers deployed to teach mathematics and 93 per cent of teachers deployed to teach science were specialists, either they had a maths/science-related degree or had specialised in maths/science at initial teacher training (ITT).
  • Conversely, 24 per cent of teachers deployed to teach mathematics and 8 per cent of teachers deployed to teach science were non-specialists or were predominately teachers of other subjects.
  • For the science teaching population, there is a large imbalance in the representation of school sciences. In total, 44 per cent of all teachers who taught science had a specialism (ie, holding a degree in the subject or specialising in the subject in initial teacher training) in biology compared with 25 per cent who were chemistry specialists and 19 per cent who were physics specialists.
  • There is inequity between schools in the qualifications of staff teaching mathematics and science. Maths teachers who were not specialists in the subject were most often found in the lowest attaining schools, those serving areas of socio-economic deprivation and those with an 11-16 age range.
  • In science, the imbalance in the representation of biology, physics and chemistry specialists was unevenly spread across schools. For example, 26 per cent of 11-16 schools did not have any physics specialists.
  • Imbalance was also evident within schools in terms of pupils' ability: for instance, in maths, pupils set in designated 'low ability' groups had an increased chance of being taught by a teacher without a post-16 qualification in the subject.
  • In this sample, at AS/A2 level, 59 per cent of biology teaching time, 60 per cent of chemistry and 52 per cent of physics was taken by those with a degree in the particular science. Around 10 per cent of the time (13 per cent in A-level physics) was taught by those who either held no qualifications at post-16 level or above in the science or whose highest qualification in the science was itself A-level.
  • In determining how to deploy all available teachers to maths and science classes, heads of department reported that they gave priority to year groups / courses that involve national assessment: Year 9, GCSE and AS/A2-level.
  • In departments that had dedicated support staff, both teachers and departmental heads were significantly more satisfied with the amount and quality of in-class support and administrative support they received. There was evidence that being based in one department was also of benefit to the support staff themselves, both in terms of their overall satisfaction and access to professional development.