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Issue 476, 4 February 2002

Less than one in ten to teach

Only nine per cent of science and mathematics undergraduates are interested in going into secondary school teaching, according to a survey by the school of education.

Students identified larger starting salaries, more opportunities for progression and greater freedom in teaching methods as measures to make teaching more attractive.

Fewer than one in ten of the 698 first-year students questioned expressed any interest in becoming a teacher. While 52% were undecided on any career, 39% had made career choices which excluded teaching. Of the physicists within the group, only four per cent placed teaching amongst their possible career choices.

The factors influencing career choice also came under scrutiny. First-years are not long out of school, and their own experiences there, of teachers and fellow pupils, figured highly in their views of teaching as a career. The biggest positive influence on students was their own experience of good teaching, and expectations of poor behaviour from pupils had the greatest negative impact.

Along with career prospects and salary – the second most negative influence – these are the areas where students judged policy initiatives to be potentially most effective in improving recruitment. The survey found some support for the theory that those with lower academic achievement choose to go into teaching. When aggregate A level scores were averaged out, those interested in teaching had a score of 12.5 points, compared to 13.7 for the two other groups.

Project director Jim Donnelly said: "It seems unlikely that what might be called ‘cosmetic' strategies, such as advertisements, slogans and celebrity endorsements, would influence these students, whose views are based firmly in their own experience.

"They appear to be making clear long-term judgements about teaching as a career in terms of its rewards, financial and otherwise. However, if potential teachers could be convinced that they would be supported in dealing with disruption in the classroom, and be assured through salary and career progression prospects that teaching was a career for the ambitious, a greater proportion would probably be prepared to attempt it."

The research, funded by the Standing Conference on Studies in Education, is now conducting a similar survey with third-year undergraduates to see how perceptions change as memories of school grow less immediate.


 
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