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Warning sounded over black hole in UK physics teaching

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One in four state secondary schools do not employ a specialist physics teacher, according to research out today.

The picture, based on a survey of school recruiters, trainees and colleges, varies around the English regions. The situation is bleakest for physics in inner London, where half of the schools don't have a specialist brain in the staff room.

New rules from September this year mean pupils who score well enough in key stage three science SATs must be offered the choice to take a standalone physics GCSE.

Yet during 2005/06, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 26 per cent more specialist physics teachers retired or quit than came into the profession. The figures are muddied by the fact that teacher training colleges can bag a £1,000 premium by listing general science trainees as "specialists".

One set of data from training colleges shows physics specialist applications down 27 per cent this year, however.

The University of Buckingham researchers behind the report argue that the drop-off may be a sign of new tuition fees levied against trainees in 2006 beginning to bite.

One comprehensive school told the researchers: "Retention is vital. We have not been able to recruit a 'true' physicist for five years. Adverts have on occasion produced a nil response and other attempts produced no viable candidates."

The authors conclude that the government will likely fail to meet its 2014 target of one quarter of school science teachers being physics specialists. In 1983 physics specialists accounted for 30 per cent of trainee science teachers. Last year they were down to 13 per cent.

The full physics teaching doom rundown is here (pdf). ®

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