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Welsh Physics Teachers: Where are they going?

David Cunnah at the IOP Wales sent me this graph. Now graphs are often fraught with difficulty and this is no different. First of all we have a % of a total on the side. This isn’t perhaps as helpful as raw numbers, but look at that dip for the 35-39 age group.

Welsh Physics teachers graph

So it could be that that dip isn’t a cause for concern. Numbers there have stayed the same but all the other groups have increased in the 4 years and that would be great. Except the area under the graph represents the total number of physics teachers but normalised. Hence if the other numbers had increased then the total number of physics teachers in Wales would have more than doubled in ~4 years. I’m pretty certain that hasn’t happened!

Given what I’ve heard about recruitment in schools and teacher training we can probably assume that the number of physics teachers over that period has stayed roughly the same. This is perhaps a bit optimistic but hopefully not too far out.

Which tends to suggest the dip is real. So why have we lost such a noticeable proportion in such a short space of time?

We really need raw figures. Then we could perhaps compare total numbers and also actual numbers in that group. A small sample size may be to blame with only a few teachers making a very impact as regards the graph. But even then we’re losing a very specific group. Even if it was just 2 or 3 teachers then why have they left and where have they gone? One factor that springs to mind is the closing of school VIth forms in Wales. I for one wouldn’t really want to teach in an 11-16 school. There’s plenty of good stuff happening there but I like teaching the 16-18 age group because I find it challenging. It’s where I learn the most physics. If I was a teacher in that age group and the VIth form in my school had shut then I think I’d be off. Where would I go? Well I guess the normal teacher would be well placed to go into industry at that age and start a new career, or just go to a school in England where there’s still a shortage of physics teachers and a job shouldn’t be too hard to find. In fact I know someone who did just that.

It could be a result of gender as women decide that now would be a good time to start a family. But I can’t help but think that the dip would be a little sooner if that was the case.

But look at that pointy bit sticking out on the right at the top where the graph sort of flat lines at 23%. The area under the graph represents numbers of people but normalised. So if the area got less in one place and more in another than all that’s happened over time is that people have gotten older. The sizes of the two areas don’t need to be the same because the actual numbers are different. That probably explains a little bit of the difference but that area goes across more than one age group and given that those are 5 years then that wouldn’t really explain it away.

So it’s possible we have a problem, maybe not as big as the graph shows on first glance. We need more info!

But there’s another problem. Look at the start point of the graph. It hasn’t changed in 4 years. We know we need more physics teachers so where will they come from? Most likely through ITE. But that sort of percentage is staying the same and it probably needs doubling. Sure we can get other older, more experienced, people entering the profession but training young folk who have a whole career of teaching in front of them makes more sense. It looks like we had an increase in numbers of young teachers but that seems to have dropped. We know they haven’t gone into the 35-39 group because of the dip.

The tail off at the end is less worrying. People die. But also a lot of physics teachers (being very clever, organized, capable, good looking, sexy etc.) go onto management positions.

Comments on this would be most welcome.


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December 2013
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