Why should we invest in teachers?

Ian Duffy, BP, and Yvonne Baker, STEM Learning Ltd, discuss the challenges surrounding the retention of teachers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).


Most readers will know that the UK is in the midst of an ongoing STEM skills shortage, particularly in engineering, but have you thought about how we train young people for those STEM careers? There is a real challenge in the teaching profession at the moment, with around one third of all science teachers leaving teaching entirely within their first five years. It is this hidden issue that is perhaps the greatest threat to the UK skills base.

Putting that into even sharper context, research by Education Datalab for the Wellcome Trust shows that newly qualified science teachers (NQTs) are 20% more likely to leave the profession compared to non-science NQTs, rising to nearly 30% for those with a  physics or engineering degree. And the House of Commons education committee reported in 2017 that there has been significant under-recruitment of maths and physics NQTs over the past five years.

Can you guess which STEM subjects have the greatest skills shortage at a UK level?

Why teacher retention is so important

This retention issue becomes even more important when one looks at the time needed to achieve mastery in teaching, creating the greatest possible impact on students. Various studies in the US have shown that this occurs after 7 years in the profession. And other studies, including the ASPIRES and Gatsby Good Career Guidance reports, highlight the importance of subject teachers in building STEM career aspirations amongst their students.

Professor Rob Coe and colleagues at Durham University reviewed What Makes Great Teaching for the Sutton Trust, and concluded that the two strongest influences on student outcomes are content knowledge and quality of instruction. These typically improve over time with the right professional development support (CPD) and with experience.

What can be done?

The National Forum for Education Research (NFER) found that engagement underpins retention of teachers, specifically relating to job satisfaction, having adequate resources, reward and recognition, and being well supported by management. One of the clearest examples of this in practice comes from the Education Datalab analysis, looking at the impact of CPD courses provided by STEM Learning. They found a near-causal link between engaging with STEM Learning CPD and staying in the teaching profession – a 160% increase compared to those not engaging in the CPD.

As well as the astonishing impact on teacher retention, engagement with STEM Learning CPD improves the attainment of pupils, builds engagement with STEM subjects (for example by building levels of science capital in pupils) and crucially improves teachers’ and young people’s awareness of STEM careers.

BP has been funding this CPD through Project ENTHUSE since 2008, alongside the Wellcome Trust, the Department for Education, and a range of other businesses and charities.

How can businesses help build on this success?

STEM Learning is the number one provider of STEM CPD to teachers and technicians across the UK, and is a world leader in the field. They reach 100% of all UK secondary schools, post-16 and FE colleges, and over 75% of primary schools. They positively influence young people, with 90% increasing their STEM engagement after working with STEM Ambassadors. There is a wide range of ways in which businesses, particularly BITC members, can get involved, from funding ENTHUSE partnerships, to hosting STEM Insight placements for teachers, to promoting employee volunteering through the STEM Ambassadors programme.

BP is the National Champion for STEM education within the Business in the Community education leadership team. You can find out more about BP’s support for UK education at www.bp.com/stem and www.bp.com/sciencecapital.