Long hours, endless admin and angry parents – why schools just can’t get the teachers

From theguardian,  Monday 1 February 2016, by , @johnharris1969

Paragraphs referring to mathematics:

On top of all that are the effects of the pay policy which froze teachers salaries for three years from 2010, and recently capped rises for most teachers at 1% until 2020. As any maths teacher could tell you, that means pay cuts in real terms – and more disaffection, as wages in the private sector start ticking up. […]


He echoes concerns about subjects such as maths and the sciences feeling the pinch. “I think that’s a combination of the economy picking up, and the fact there’s just not that straightforward route into teaching,” he says. Howes runs a course for people who haven’t got degrees in physics – an A-level is the basic requirement – but want to become physics teachers. “The number of schools I’m working with who haven’t got properly trained physics teachers is massive,” he says. “You just keep coming across the fact that trainees are working with teachers who are not themselves trained in physics.” It takes me a while to process what this means, in some cases: people without physics degrees being helped to teach physics by people who don’t have physics degrees either. […]


Barber hands me a sheet of paper recording all the vacancies he has advertised over the last few years, and how many applications he got back. A job teaching art attracted 18 – because, he says, thanks to the changes pushed through by the government, “schools are now actively reducing numbers of art teachers”, and many are going spare. By contrast, the numbers of people applying for jobs teaching English, science and computing never got any higher than four – and appointing a new head of maths, he says, was “an absolute nightmare”.


Finding heads of departments, he says, is a particular problem, what with Ofsted ready to pounce, and results in key subjects so crucial for a school’s reputation: “If you’re the head of maths or the head of English, you are so accountable: if the maths department goes down, the whole school goes down.” For this job, the school got four applications, three of which were “no good”, leaving one that he says was outstanding. The applicant came from a large academy chain, which for some reason, had given her a poor reference.


“We couldn’t understand it – what we could see in front of us, and what the reference said were completely at odds with each other,” he says. He decided to employ her, and she accepted – but a few weeks before the end of term, he received a call saying she wouldn’t take the job after all. “The next thing I know, this chain was announcing its new head of maths in a brand-new academy,” he says. “Presumably, they offered her a better deal.” He suddenly looks pained. “I feel like the corner shop up against Tesco. These academy chains have huge resources, and lots of lots of schools. I won’t appoint anyone I don’t think is capable of doing the job. That would still be my official line. But the truth is, you do find yourself thinking: if I don’t appoint this person and I advertise again, that’s going to cost me another £3,500 when money is really tight.”



MathsBombe from Manchester

 MathBombeFrom the people behind the Alan Turing Cryptography Competition

MathsBombe – the new maths-based competition aimed at A-level students (but open to all UK students in Year 13 (or equivalent) or below) – started this afternoon.   This is the sister competition to the now well-established `Alan Turing Cryptography Competition’ but aimed at an older group of students and featuring mathematical puzzles.  If you know anybody who would be interested in this then please pass this on (or if you know of any way of promoting the competition that we haven’t thought of then please let us know!). The url is:   www.maths.manchester.ac.uk/mathsbombe

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Modelling Camp, Edinburgh, March 21-24, 2016

On 21-24 March 2016, ICMS will host a Modelling Camp.  The 3.5 day
modelling camp has 3 main aims

  • To train students and early career mathematical science researchers to
    engage in study groups and similar activities
  • To offer broader skills training – team-working, coping outside of
    one’s comfort zone, introduction to modelling methodology, report
    writing, and enhancing communication/presentation skills
  • To learn how different branches of mathematics can be applied in
    various industrial settings.
  • The meeting will be structured to maximise time for networking and
    informal discussions.
  • This modelling camp will be held in advance of the 116th Study Group
    with Industry (ESGI), University of Durham, April 2016.

Further details, including funding options, are available on the website
Funding has been secured for a limited number of delegates so early
registration is recommended.

Paul Andrews: PhD positions at Stockholm University

The Department of Mathematics and Science Education at Stockholm University islooking to appoint two full-time PhD students for a four year, possibly five year with a 20% teaching load, project on the development of grade one students’ foundational number sense in England and Sweden. The project, which is funded by the Swedish Research Council, will involve interviews, with parents and teachers of students and, following those, the development and implementation of surveys for use with parents and teachers in the two countries. Finally, the project will involve video-based classroom observations. The project is being led by Professor Paul Andrews paul [dot] andrews >>at<< mnd.su.se  from whom further information may be obtained, and Dr Judy Sayers. It is possible that one of the students could be based in England. Applicants must be fluent in English and at least one must be fluent in Swedish.

The announcements in English and Swedish respectively can be found at



The closing date for applications is January 15, 2016.

Barry Cooper, 1943–2015

I am sorry to report the very sad news that Barry Cooper died at his home in Leeds on Monday night. He learned less than three weeks ago that he had untreatable cancer, and the decline was much faster than expected. He was with his family at the end.

Born on 9.10.1943, Barry had been  a leading figure in UK logic since the 1960s. He came to the University of Leeds as a Lecturer in  October 1969, and apart from visits elsewhere (he was a lecturer at UC Berkeley 1971-1973 and came back to Leeds in 1974), held his career throughout in Leeds, becoming a Professor in 1996.  He was a major figure in computability theory, especially degree theory, also exploring in the last 10-15 years wider and more philosophical ramifications. He had many PhD students, some now in leading academic positions, and was also popular with undergraduates as an outstanding and charismatic lecturer. Barry had been exceptionally energetic in recent years, and died  with several papers and books still in progress. He played a leading role in developing Computability in Europe, of which he was President, and also, by chairing the Turing Centenary Advisory Committee, helped to drive the international and hugely successful Turing Centenary in 2012. I and his other colleagues in Leeds will value and remember him for many things, especially his originality and broad vision, and his kindness to more junior people – staff or students, in Leeds or elsewhere. As a researcher, teacher, and academic citizen, he will be a big loss for the logic community, in the UK and worldwide.

UUK response to HEFCE’s Review of quality assessment

From The Disorder of Things:

UUK has just circulated their response to HEFCE [see HEFCE’s Review of quality assessment] which endorses the use of student outcomes data […]. They write:

We agree that a core set of quantitative student outcome metrics should be included in institutional reporting. These should be the benchmarked UK performance indicator set, covering retention, widening participation, 6 months destination of leavers from higher education, plus relevant benchmarked results from the national student survey, primarily question 22 ‘overall satisfaction with course’…

“Discrete Analysis”: standards are set high

Tim Gowers set up  a new journal, Discrete Analysis — an arXiv overlay journal. 

His new blog post shows that the Journal’s standards are set high:

I imagine most people reading this will already have heard that Terence Tao has solved the Erdős discrepancy problem. He has blogged about the solution in two posts, a first that shows how to reduce the problem to the Elliott conjecture in number theory, and a second that shows (i) that an averaged form of the conjecture is sufficient and (ii) that he can prove the averaged form. Two preprints covering (i) and (ii) are here and here: the one covering (i) has been submitted to Discrete Analysis.

Discrete Analysis — an arXiv overlay journal

Tim Gowers starts a new journal:

This post is to announce the start of a new mathematics journal, to be called Discrete Analysis. While in most respects it will be just like any other journal, it will be unusual in one important way: it will be purely an arXiv overlay journal. That is, rather than publishing, or even electronically hosting, papers, it will consist of a list of links to arXiv preprints. Other than that, the journal will be entirely conventional: authors will submit links to arXiv preprints, and then the editors of the journal will find referees, using their quick opinions and more detailed reports in the usual way in order to decide which papers will be accepted.

Read the rest.


OECD: Students, Computers and Learning

This OECD Report is in news (see, for example, Too much technology ‘could lower school results’ at the BBC). What follows are some quotes from the Report related to mathematics.

The results also show no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education. And perhaps the most disappointing finding of the report is that technology is of little help in bridging the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Put simply, ensuring that every child attains a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidising access to high-tech devices and services. (p. 3)

What the data tell us
• Resources invested in ICT for education are not linked to improved student achievement in reading, mathematics or science. […]

• Overall, the relationship between computer use at school and performance is graphically illustrated by a hill shape, which suggests that limited use of computers at school may be better than no use at all, but levels of computer use above the current OECD average are associated with significantly poorer results. (p. 146)

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