5-subject secondary teachers ‘exposed’

Secondary school teachers are being forced to teach up to five subjects as a result of ongoing budget pressures, but are being ‘exposed’ by pupils for their lack of knowledge.

This concerning trend was highlighted by Jerry Glazier, general secretary of the National Education Union – Essex. Though he was commenting on secondary schools in the region, the issue is certainly more far-reaching, particularly with our own research revealing drastic teacher shortages spanning the UK.

Focusing on Essex, the School Cuts Coalition analysed government data to find that there were 192 fewer secondary school teachers in 2016/17 than 2014/15. As the East Anglian Daily Times reports, this is despite student numbers rising by more than 700 to 77,378.

There are growing concerns that secondary schools are becoming increasingly overstretched due to budget constraints, with many heads believing that teachers can lead various subjects, such as geography teachers teaching maths.

The government is insisting that school funding is at record levels and has urged heads to tighten their belts.

Mr Glazier acknowledges that the teacher shortage “is not being strategically addressed as school populations increase.” He explained that in certain areas of Essex, it is impossible to recruit a qualified mathematician for a role, and that schools aren’t replacing teachers because they can’t afford to.

He continued: “Some teachers are willing [to teach more than one subject] but too often teachers are complaining to me that they are being told they are a qualified teacher, therefore they can teach any subject, which at secondary school is of course nonsense.”

When teachers start leading subjects they have no experience in or knowledge of, they are quickly exposed by pupils and their ability to teach effectively is diminished, said Mr Glazier. As a result, children’s education opportunities are being put at risk.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education hailed the Schools Cuts figures as ‘fundamentally misleading.’ They stressed: “We are investing an additional £1.3 billion in school funding, over and above existing plans, through the funding formula, schools in Essex will see an increase of £37.8 million.”

What’s apparent is that school unions and the government are completely divided in opinion. There is concrete evidence of a teacher shortage in schools across the UK, but if the government is failing to accept the pressure this is putting on schools, we can’t see the issue being resolved anytime soon, which is a huge shame.

Have you ever been pressured to teach subjects outside of your specialism? If so, did you feel exposed and vulnerable?



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10 thoughts on “5-subject secondary teachers ‘exposed’

  1. I am sorry, but I disagree. All too often we are told behaviour in lessons is due to poor teachers, poor subject knowledge and poor planning. Behaviour should be a pre-requisite, not a by-product of good teaching. Good teaching will come if behaviour is good. This is what is stressful about teaching – the need to plan, plan plan until there is no room for bad behaviour because the students are so busy. We can’t continue like this. Schools need the ability to put behaviour policies in place that actually work. If students are not ready to learn, they they should not be there. I work on a very simple principle, 2 warnings and they are removed from the room. Last term I had to remove 2 students.

  2. Good day,
    If the UK is truly experiencing shortage in teachers (especially mathematics teachers), I wish to suggest that the UK home office make it easier for foreigners to get employed and settle in the UK. I know many excellent and dedicated mathematics teachers in Nigeria, where I come from. Thank you.

  3. Fact: School funding is at record levels.
    Fact 2: Pupils levels are at even higher levels
    Corollary: Funding per pupil is DOWN.
    Interpretation. The government knows this and deliberately misleads, making them unfit to run education.

  4. Completely agree. Teachers are trained to a syllabus, politically or fashionably motivated; yet the quest for knowledge and wisdom is much deeper. Every subject teacher has his/her own particular field of expertise.

    From my own experience as a music teacher and musician, my knowledge is very extensive in some fields, but limited in others.

  5. I first experienced this ‘you are a qualified teacher, therefore you can teach any subject’ nonsense when I was on placement during my PGCE year. Saying so just doesn’t make it true. During my NQT year, out of necessity several teachers at my school were teaching outside of their specialism; PE teachers teaching science, MFL teachers teaching English etc – partly this was a job security issue – to avoid making permanent staff redundant, they were being shuffled around the departments. But the students deserve to feel confident that their teacher knows their subject and can ignite an interest in them – with the best will in the world, a non-specialist would be hard-pressed to pass on their passion for literature/maths/physics etc if it was not their free choice to stand up and teach it.

  6. Basically in the above you have covered the problem in a few words on a couple of occasions.

    Government is 1st major issue,m Some pathetic Head Teachers who think more of their personal ego in that club of Head Teachers is 2nd and the Education Boards , as an outsider all I see is they and the local education offices of Councils are full of basically ex useless teachers who knew someone in the know and moved out of direct teaching trying to avoid being exposed later for their true capabilities as being Zero or 1 point above. These LEO’s cause many of the issues with teaching as they continually work at creating paperwork and the associated requirements which causes frustration to teaching staff and require them to spend more time on admin than teaching. Many a good teacher has left the profession to the detriment of children as they were the ones who conscientiously wanted to teach. They indicate we are moving forward but typical of Govt and their Ministers , if fact they are wasting £millions and often going backwards.

  7. I was asked to fill in for s physics year 11 vacancy, “just for a week”.

    The only way to deal with it was to admit I knew little about physics, look at the IGCSE syllabus and download YouTube videos.

    Not ideal but it was for a couple of months, not just a week, so students had to have decent tuition if only via YouTube.

  8. As an NQT I taught four subjects. Three of them I hadn’t even studied to GCSE level. Whilst I had no concerns about getting myself to an adequate level of knowledge (even at A level), it was the time demand to do so that was exhausting. It’s also hard to be as enthusiastic with a subject that is not your specialty and therefore students miss out.

  9. I have been teaching Science for 20 years. Unfortunately I have had one experience where I was given no choice and told to teach 2 other subjects – the pressure was immense – it took me hours to plan one lesson as I wanted to maintain the standards of my science lessons and ensure I had no gaps in my knowledge for those subjects. After a few weeks I couldn’t cope with the pressure so I resigned.
    I have also witnessed teachers of other subjects being forced to teach lessons for which they have had no training or experience – this was so they didn’t lose their job. The teachers were miserable but felt they had no choice.
    PE teachers teaching maths, IT teachers teaching English, Maths and Science are among some examples.
    Having worked in many schools I can say with certainty that there is a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. The Government will not admit this otherwise they will have to take responsibility and do something.
    Education is the key to the future for our children – something needs to change NOW.

  10. Having successfully taught maths for several years in the college sector my new line manager strong-armed me into training to teach English, because my highest qualification was in English (Literature) and not maths. Pointing out the difference between literature and language to her made no difference, and the pressure of learning and teaching this new subject (whilst still teaching other classes) contributed to my breakdown. It doesn’t just happen in secondary schools!

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