20% of maths teachers studied something else

One in five second-level students is being taught maths by a teacher whose main area of study was in a different subject, research shows.

While they are all qualified teachers and some may be taking or have graduated from upskilling courses, the 20% of students in their second-year classes is significantly higher than average.

A report from the Educational Research Centre at Dublin City University said that, internationally, the average proportion of second-level students taught maths by someone whose main area of study was something other than maths was 13%.

“While teachers will have met the Teaching Council’s requirement for recognition, it is likely that those who had not studied maths or maths education as a major part of their third-level education would not meet the Council’s requirements for teaching maths,” said Rachel Perkins, one of the report’s authors.


She and her colleagues at the ERC analysed data from the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS), whose results in 2016 showed Irish students in performing relatively high in both subjects. Second-year students’ average scores in maths were significantly beaten by counterparts in just six out of 39 countries, and only seven countries significantly outperformed Irish students in science.

The Teaching Council’s sets the minimum requirement for teaching maths as second-level as having it as at least one third of their third-level degree.

The issue of so-called out-of-field teaching in maths and its impact on students was highlighted in several pieces of research a decade ago as a new maths curriculum was being introduced in second-level schools. Between 2012 and 2016, 550 teachers qualified with a professional diploma in maths teaching, after completing a course destined to address the high numbers who were not fully qualified to teach the subject.

Despite the relatively high numbers being taught maths by someone who did not have it as a major college subject, more than 30% of Irish students are taught both maths and science by teachers with at least a master’s-level qualification. The international average was 25% across countries in the TIMMS 2015 study.

The latest analysis by Ms Perkins, Emma Chubb and Aidan Clerkin also highlights that strong average scores were achieved despite relatively low teaching time for the two subjects.

The 90 hours of annual science teaching received while students are in second year was the lowest, being less than two thirds the average 144 hours annually in all countries. 

The international average teaching time for second-year students in maths was 138 hours, but it was just 109 in Ireland.

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