Attracting High Achievers to Mathematics Teaching.

The Grattan Institute is an independent think tank working on Australian public policy. It was formed in 2008 with a $15 million endowment from the Victorian Government, another $15 million from the Federal Government, $4 million from BHP and $1 million from National Australia Bank.

They regularly produce excellent reports and on Sunday they produced another. This one is right in our area of interest; Attracting High Achievers to Teaching. At present only 3% of hugh achievers (defined as ATAR 85 or above) go into high school teaching.

The Grattan Institute has three central suggestions;

  1. Australia should pay high achievers $10,000 cash in hand to do a teaching qualification.

  2. Australia should create 2 new higher paid roles within the high school system; Specialist Instructors and Master Teachers who would be paid well above the present wage pinnacle for teachers ($40,000 and $80,000 respectively).

  3. Australia should run a large $20,000,000 per year advertising campaign, similar to the Australian Defence Force campaign, to attract high achievers to the teaching profession.

The document is worth reading. In many ways the central concepts remind us of the interventions made by the Blair Government in the UK to attract high achievers to nursing/keep high achievers in nursing.

The Institute for Enquiring Minds is all about changing the way maths is experienced; resetting attitudes and redefining access. For most people the experience of maths is how young high school students are taught maths. It is a very short journey from being a high school student to the post high school high achievers that The Grattan Institute is interested in. We support the authors of the report, Goss and Sonneman, but we also see added complexity around our area of expertise; maths.

If a student has a negative experience of maths in school than they will obviously not be likely to consider maths at University. So if we are not getting people to consider maths in the first place then no amount of expensive high achiever recruitment will make up for the fact that the high achiever was not doing a maths degree. They wont be a maths “Specialist Instructor”. They cannot be a maths “Master Teacher”. This is just a reflection of some of the added difficulties around changing how maths education is delivered.

Chicken. Egg. Chicken. Egg.

There are too many students having that negative experience of maths in high school. But it is important to consider how it feels to be a hard working maths teacher out there today. We do not want to be seen as critical of maths teachers. We think they are heroes. It is a hard job and probably one of the hardest in high school teaching. ( We have tried it.) We know that 1 in 3 maths classes in Australian High Schools is taught by a non-maths trained teacher. (AMSI 2018)

There are many reasons that high school teaching is not presently attracting as many high achievers as it has done in the past. There are some extra complications around maths. This is a “difficult problem”. We need a “difficult problem” solution. To do that we need problem solvers good at solving difficult problems. We need there to be mathematicians in there too. Goss is a biologist by training and Sonneman an economist. We applaud their effort. From the survey of 950 people, upon which a lot of the policy document is based, 14% of respondents stated that they were looking at a career in “Science and Maths”.

We think there should be more mathematical input into the problem of mathematics education.

Have a read. Have a think. Have your say. The Grattan Institute is all up for a bit of debate and so are we.

Image Credit; The Grattan Institute.