ALMOST half of those who teach maths in secondary schools have no qualification in teaching the subject, a study has found.
The finding is contained in a report on “out-of-field teachers” who are teaching maths, carried out at the University of Limerick.
The report, by Dr Máire Ní Ríordáin and Dr Ailish Hannigan, of the National Centre for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and Learing (NCE-MSTL), is based on a survey of principals and teachers of maths from a representative national sample of post-primary schools.
Ms Ní Ríordáin said: “The study found that 48% of teachers in the survey who are teaching mathematics in our post-primary schools have no qualification in mathematics teaching. These teachers are mainly qualified science and business studies teachers. Out-of-field teachers of mathematics for the most part are deployed in ordinary level (non-exam years), foundation level, Leaving Certificate applied, and resource teaching in mathematics.”
Qualified maths teachers are mainly assigned to higher and ordinary level mathematics, particularly the exam years and senior cycle. Ms Hannigan suggested the findings highlight a divide, with younger and weaker students most often taught by out-of-field teachers.
“It is important to establish effective mathematics teaching for all year groups in junior and senior cycles as this is a significant contributory factor in student success in mathematics at all levels.”
Ms Ní Ríordáin added: “This is necessary to counteract the negative impact of these out-of-field teachers of mathematics in the early years of junior cycle where students’ attitudes and abilities need to be nurtured.”
Ms Hannigan said teachers and principals who were surveyed also recognised the importance of qualifications to teach mathematics.
“There is a real need for continuous professional development courses for teachers teaching mathematics; 76% of the unqualified teachers said they would avail of a qualification if one was provided, while 88% of principals who responded would encourage teachers to gain appropriate qualifications.”
The report called for a postgraduate qualification in maths teaching for out-of-field teachers.
Anne Looney, chief executive of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, said with recruitment stalled, the first response has to be to support teachers in the system.
“This is underway with a comprehensive programme of professional development in place for the new maths courses being introduced, supported by the NCE-MSTL at UL, and I know planning is underway within the Department of Education and Science and funding secured for more support for the current teaching force in both mathematics and mathematics pedagogy.”
Prof Paul McCutcheon, registrar at UL, said a sea change was needed in the way maths and science are taught. “It’s not just about exams and points. It’s about critical thinking and innovation. It is, therefore, essential that government policy in education is informed by research such as this.”
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