Friday, March 06, 2009

British teachers' careers 'blighted' by false allegations

Hundreds of teachers are facing false allegations of abusing children every year, union leaders said. More than 800 claims are being made against staff, according to the NASUWT union. Many of the allegations follow attempts by teachers to discipline pupils who misbehave in class, it was claimed.

The union argued that teachers were seen as "guilty until proven innocent" and can face suspension, police investigations or disciplinary procedures if they are confronted with abuse allegations or claims they used excessive force against a pupil. Even if a teacher is later cleared, the complaint is still held on record, they said.

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said the majority of allegations were unfounded and told the BBC that the situation was a "blight" on the teaching profession. She said: "Whatever the outcome of the investigation, that will be on the teacher's file. If that teacher applies for another job that allegation will be resurrected under the Criminal Records Bureau check. "So you could say that every one of those 800 teachers has got a blight over their career for the rest of their time teaching." While no-one doubts that children needed protection, Miss Keates added: "This presumption of guilt is one of the major flaws in the current system."

Ministers said they were looking at the guidance on accusations against teachers. A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "Guidance on more consistent and swifter handling of allegations was issued for education in 2005. "We are also looking at whether guidance should be amended to make clear that accusations which have been demonstrated to be untrue do not need to be included in teachers' references."


Australia: Mathematics in crisis as teachers go private

Advanced mathematics is disappearing from public school classrooms, leaving students able to learn only basic maths, because the few qualified teachers are being snapped up by the private sector. The shortage of maths teachers will become more acute as fewer students continue maths at university, undermining the nation's skills base in engineering, the sciences and technology, scientists warn. "The inequitable access to quality mathematics education is a national disgrace," the National Committee for the Mathematical Sciences says in a report calling for a national strategy to boost the discipline.

An estimated 40 per cent of senior school mathematics teachers do not have a maths major, the minimum needed to teach the subject to senior years, the committee believes. That is up from 30 per cent in 1999. At the same time, university enrolments for maths majors fell almost 14 per cent between 2001 and 2007.

The committee is part of the Australian Academy of Science. Its chairman, Hyam Rubinstein, said state schools could not compete with the private sector for qualified maths teachers. "Students not having access to (higher level maths) in government schools is really disadvantaging them in a number of important areas of study," Professor Rubinstein said. "It is just going to make the skills shortage worse because, even with the economic downturn, we need to replace our engineers who are all ageing, and we aren't going to be able to do that if people aren't doing mathematics at school."

The number of Year 12 students studying advanced maths has fallen 20 per cent, from 25,000 in 1995 to 20,000 in 2007. The proportion of Year 12 students studying senior maths has now fallen from 14 per cent to 10per cent, with the proportion taking intermediate maths down from 27 per cent to 21 per cent. In contrast, the proportion studying elementary maths has risen from 37 per cent to 48 per cent.

Mathematical Association of Victoria head Simon Pryor said: "Year 7 and Year 8 are critical years, especially if you are going to get kids to love mathematics." Mr Pryor said principals, hit by limited resources, were being forced to staff maths classes with teachers lacking maths qualifications. This year, Mr Pryor took a call from a young teacher at a Victorian state school who last studied maths at school in Year 12. He was desperate for coaching after discovering he had been given a full load teaching maths to Years 10 and 11.

While it is not new for the association to get cries for help from teachers with little maths training, Mr Pryor said he was surprised that senior school students were being taught by teachers lacking maths training. A senior mathematics teacher, who preferred not to be named, said unqualified maths teachers inevitably could only teach practical maths. As a result students were missing out on the higher, abstract maths required to go on to university study.

The National Committee for the Mathematical Sciences is calling for a national system of mathematics teacher registration. It wants school systems to be able to offer "golden handshakes" to attract mathematicians into teaching. It also wants schools to offer tenure to new maths teachers. It recommends a widening of the federal Government's HECS discount scheme for science graduates entering teaching to include other degrees that also include maths, such as computer science and engineering. It also wants the Government to crack down on universities and ensure government money specifically targeted for maths and statistics departments is not spent elsewhere within the universities.


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