There is a serious lack of qualified mathematics teachers across Australia.
There is a serious lack of qualified mathematics teachers across Australia.

Subject where teacher supply is nearing crisis levels

Schools are facing a maths teacher drought, with the lack of high school teachers suitably qualified nearing crisis levels, according to a new report.

The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute has today warned a combination of rising numbers of secondary school students and a fall in the numbers of specialist teachers of high-level maths meant urgent action was needed to maintain standards.

Victoria's student population is set to boom to more than 1.1 million pupils by 2026.

The projection, from the Grattan Institute, shows the state will face the third-highest student growth nationwide, at almost 20 per cent in a decade.

Only the ACT and QLD are expected to have greater growth, at 23 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.

But Victoria will absorb the highest student number, with an extra 180,000 pupils in that time.

Just over one in 20 Victorian graduate teachers specialised in maths in 2016, Department of Education and Training (DET) figures showed.

At the same time, almost one in 10 specialised in English.

A new report has found Australian schools are facing a lack of highly qualified maths teachers.
A new report has found Australian schools are facing a lack of highly qualified maths teachers.

AMSI director Professor Tim Brown said a push to get more students into studying STEM subjects, though positive, was also weighing on the sector and that rigorous subject knowledge benchmarks in teacher qualifications should be introduced.

He said the number of suitably qualified mathematics teachers had been on the decline across the country for the past three decades, but little action had been taken to address the issue.

"The AMSI study is important in reminding Australia of this longstanding unsolved problem," Prof. Brown said.

"When I was President, the Council of Deans of Science released an important study (in 2006) … on the extent of out of field mathematics teaching.

"The public reaction was strong but unfortunately there was no successful follow-up."

Also under fire was a lack of transparency regarding the issue, including the number of teachers needed to be retrained.

A Victorian DET spokeswoman said there were "a number of programs to attract teachers to hard to staff positions, including providing financial incentives to skilled teachers."

"The Victorian Government is providing $187 million for 700 expertly trained teachers, who will lead their colleagues in improving literacy and numeracy teaching in all government secondary school classrooms," she said.

More than 70 people are being funded through the Teach For Australia program by DET, to fast-track high performing specialised graduates into teaching careers.

A Research in Science ­Education journal released last year estimated as many as one third of STEM classroom teachers were teaching subjects "out of field".

Report co-author Michael O'Connor said that "quick fixes" would not be enough to stem the issue.

"It is critical any solution takes a long-term approach with focus on strengthening both new and existing teachers' mathematical knowledge and confidence," he said.

ashley.argoon@news.com.au

@ashargoon