The preparation of mathematics teachers in Australia: meeting the demand for suitably qualified mathematics teachers in secondary schools

Learning and teaching Schools Australia

This report examines the characteristics of mathematics teaching in Australian secondary schools – the demographics and qualifications of the teachers involved, their teaching responsibilities, and the issues for schools with regard to teacher supply and quality. The objective is to determine the current status of mathematics teaching in order to inform the decision-making processes of governments, universities and education authorities with regard to mathematics education and teacher training.

The project’s findings draw upon a nationwide survey of mathematics teachers and heads of mathematics departments in secondary schools conducted in late 2005. All mainstream secondary schools were included in the survey, with the permission of the relevant education authorities. Responses were received from 2924 teachers of mathematics and 612 heads of mathematics, representing 30 per cent of the nation’s secondary schools. The resulting dataset is representative in terms of state/territory, school sector and country/metropolitan regions.

The results of this study highlight the urgent need to prepare more people for mathematics teaching in schools. Three in four schools currently experience difficulty recruiting suitably qualified teachers for mathematics classes, and the impending retirement of the 'baby-boomers' is set to exacerbate this situation. In addition, many younger teachers are unsure of their career plans and so may also be lost from the system in the next few years.

Preparation for mathematics teaching needs to be highly discipline-specific. Mathematics teachers typically cover a broad range of mathematics subjects, with limited involvement in teaching non-mathematics subjects. They therefore require a strong tertiary grounding in mathematics knowledge, skills, and teaching methods specific to mathematics.

Teachers tell us this themselves – those with the highest levels of attainment in tertiary mathematics are the most satisfied with their qualifications.

Mathematics, unlike science, is a subject studied by virtually all students throughout their school years. Schools therefore need to staff a large number of mathematics classes. As teachers teaching 'out-of-field' are not well equipped to teach mathematics, the challenge for schools lies in recruiting and retaining suitably qualified and motivated mathematics teachers. The challenge for universities, governments and education authorities is to ensure the supply of such teachers – teachers with the strong, mathematics-specific grounding necessary to teach mathematics well.

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