Queensland Teachers Union President Kevin Bates. Picture: Claudia Baxter
Queensland Teachers Union President Kevin Bates. Picture: Claudia Baxter

Unqualified teachers forced to teach key subjects

MUSIC and sports teachers end'' to teach high school maths and science, as some schools cap student enrolments in the crucial STEM subjects.

Up to one-third of Queensland's science, technology engineering and maths (STEM) teachers were trained to teach different subjects, including physical education and music.

Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates has warned of a "huge supply issue" as more experienced teachers retire.

Mr Bates revealed that skills shortages had forced some schools to cap the ­number of students enrolling in advanced maths and science subjects.

"There may be caps in place in some areas, particularly in advanced science, to ensure there are enough qualified teachers to take that on," he said.

"The alternative is to create classes for which we don't have teachers."

Queensland Teachers Union President Kevin Bates. Picture: Claudia Baxter
Queensland Teachers Union President Kevin Bates. Picture: Claudia Baxter

Struggling out-of-field teachers across Australia have blown the whistle on their "deep-end" distress.

"I don't know what I don't know,'' one high school STEM teacher told Australian ­Catholic University researcher Anna Du Plessis, whose findings feature in the latest Research in Science ­Education journal.

A music teacher now teaching Year 7 science and maths told Dr Du Plessis that "the challenge is to teach something that's not familiar to you".

And a trained biology teacher also teaching maths admitted to "not knowing the content and not being able to answer the kids' questions if they throw you a curve ball".

"Teachers without an in-depth knowledge of specific concepts, definitions and content can offer students only superficial learning opportunities," Dr Du Plessis said.

Thousands of Queensland teachers are being retrained to teach a trickier maths syllabus for senior students.

The maths curriculum will change next year as the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) introduces external exams to bring Queensland in line with the other states.

The University of Queensland's head of mathematics and physics, Professor Joseph Grotowski, who advised the QCAA on the new syllabus, warned that many teachers needed retraining.

Australian ­Catholic University researcher Anna Du Plessis, whose findings feature in the latest Research in Science ­Education journal.
Australian ­Catholic University researcher Anna Du Plessis, whose findings feature in the latest Research in Science ­Education journal.

"The new subject, General Mathematics, has significantly more difficult mathematics content than the current Maths A,'' Prof Grotowski said.

"This means ­continuing professional development will be necessary for some current teachers of Mathematics A, as they may not have been ­exposed to some of the topics in the new General Mathematics subject.''

Prof Grotowski said that UQ and the Queensland Association of Mathematics Teachers were running training events and webinars to upskill teachers.

Queensland's Auditor-General warned five years ago that 39 per cent of high schools could not offer subjects due to teaching short­ages, and that one-third of maths teachers did not have a specialist qualification in the subject.

Queensland's Department of Education (DET) yesterday said that it had improved its workforce planning since the audit, but failed to provide updated data on out-of-field teaching.

"Schools are responsible for allocating classroom teachers across subject offerings within each school,'' a spokeswoman said. "The department has well-established processes for recruitment and transfer of teachers to ensure it has ­people where they are needed, when they are needed, and to teach the subjects being demanded by students.''

The spokeswoman said the DET had provided online STEM training to more than 3100 teachers, while QCAA had held 130 workshops for 4700 teachers to explain the new maths syllabus.

DET has warned the federal Employment Department of "medium to long-term ­supply challenges'' for high school teachers of STEM, language, English and industrial and technology and design.

State Education Minister Grace Grace yesterday called on STEM professionals to apply for government scholarships to retrain as teachers.

Ms Grace said Queensland was "leading the nation in the area of STEM, coding and ­robotics'' and had already hired more than 1000 of the 3700 extra teachers it promised during last year's election.



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