Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Questions (63)

Kathleen Funchion


63. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills if guidelines or provisions will be put in place to ensure second level students are taught maths by a teacher with a degree in the area in view of the fact that a recent report (details supplied) revealed that 20% of second year students were taught by a teacher with no specialist degree in the area, compared with the international average of 13%; and if provisions will be made to ensure adequate tutoring time is given to mathematics and science in view of the fact that this is also below the international average. [29368/18]

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Oral answers (3 contributions) (Question to Education)

This question relates to the teaching of maths and whether those teaching it have the appropriate degrees. The Deputy will note that the performance of students in Ireland in mathematics and science is relatively high by international standards. The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, TIMMS, to which she is referring, found that only six from 39 countries obtained significantly higher mean scores than Ireland in mathematics, with none of those in Europe. The report also notes that there does not appear to be a direct relationship between instructional time and student achievement. Whereas many of the highest performing countries devoted more instructional time to mathematics than Ireland, not all did.

The science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, policy statement and implementation plan which I launched in November 2017 aims to make Ireland the best in Europe in STEM subjects by 2026. Within the school system, new initiatives and curriculum developments will support greater participation and improved performance in STEM subjects. Curricular reform at junior and senior cycle will provide enhanced opportunities for teaching and learning in these subjects. This will build on the good progress already made. A report published in 2010 by the University of Limerick indicated that in a study of 51 schools, 48% of teachers included in the study did not have a major teaching qualification in mathematics. On foot of this, with funding from the Department, more than 1,300 out-of-field maths teachers will have gained a postgraduate qualification through the a programme led by EPI-STEM, the national centre for STEM education at the University of Limerick. Whereas the findings are not directly comparable, the TIMMS report suggests the position on out-of-field mathematics teachers taking classes in schools has improved compared with that in 2010.

I will only need one minute on this question and will not need to come back with a supplementary question. We are raising it on the back of a report conducted that studied fourth class and second year students. It was indicated that 20% were being taught by persons with no specialist degree. That figure is much higher than the international average of 13%. Given that it is a very difficult and specialised subject, we hope students will be taught by persons with a specialist degree. I understand what the Minister is saying about the general standard, but it seems from the study that as pupils progress from primary to secondary school, the level deteriorates or drops off. That coincides with students seeking maths grinds in fifth and sixth year. Clearly, there is some difficulty. It is about highlighting it and receiving some assurances that, in general, we will try to aim to reach the international average of 13%.

We were near the top of the group at primary level and only Northern Ireland was ahead of us among European countries. At second level, no other European country was significantly ahead of us. We are not behind. The investment of €7 million and the 1,300 upgraded maths teachers have made an impact. We need to continue to work on the issue of teacher supply and it is something we have discussed here. Maths and physics will be the key subjects on which there will be a focus.