Retaining Science, Mathematics and Computing teachers

Jack Worth and Jens Van den Brande

27 November 2019

The teacher supply challenge is particularly acute in science, mathematics, and computing (SMC). Recruitment of new trainees has been consistently below target for several years, and retaining teachers is a particular challenge in SMC subjects.

The Royal Society has commissioned the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) to undertake exploratory research into the SMC teacher workforce in England. Using new analysis of international survey data, the research sheds new light on the reasons why rates of teachers leaving the profession are higher among SMC teachers compared to non-SMC teachers.

Key Findings

  • Science, maths and technology (SMT) teachers have slightly different working patterns. For example, science teachers tend to work slightly longer hours, and spend more time planning and preparing lessons. However, different working patterns do not seem to explain why science, mathematics and technology teachers’ satisfaction with teaching is slightly lower than non-SMT teachers, suggesting that different workload is unlikely to explain why SMC teacher leaving rates are higher.
  • Science and maths teachers have lower levels of self-efficacy (belief in their own ability) in student engagement. Generally, lower self-efficacy among SMT teachers seems to explain part of the reason why their satisfaction with teaching is slightly lower than among non-SMT teachers, although the differences are not statistically significant.
  • Higher-paid options outside teaching is one often-cited reason why SMC leaving rates are higher compared to non-SMC teachers. However, this does not necessarily imply that financial incentives are the only policy remedy. Ex-teachers of STEM and non-STEM subjects both gave ‘workload’ as the main reason for having left teaching. Focused efforts to reduce science teacher workload may help to improve retention.