Cambridge Independent Column: How to encourage and support more STEM teachers

Teachers have the ability to shape lives and change futures. Ensuring we have enough outstanding teachers to inspire the next generation is an important role of any government. Which is why governments continue to grapple with this issue.

The recruitment challenge is not new. Nor is it faced by one single political party. In a government report of 1963 it was reported that the National Advisory Council on the Training and Supply of Teachers anticipated there would be a continuing shortage of teachers for the next two decades.

It is indisputable that we need more teachers. And particularly more teachers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. This is not only because there is an underlying shortage of teachers in these specialities. It is also because, as we have rightly identified in the Industrial Strategy Green paper, excellence in science, research and innovation is an important source of global competitive advantage.

And it seems obvious that if we want to upskill and inspire our future workforce in these areas we need to recruit more well trained, inspiring and innovative teachers; who are aware of technological innovation in industry.   And what is a better way of doing this than linking them up with the businesses that will ultimately give jobs to the students they train?

There is, in my opinion, one answer to both teacher shortage and also our innovation challenge and it is staring us right in the face. 

Since April businesses across the country have been required to pay the apprenticeship levy. Businesses now, for the first time, are actively required to think constructively about their role in training their workforce.

The apprenticeship levy could, however, go even further than this. It currently proposes that 10% of the levy can go to a business’ supply chain. And what is the start of that supply chain other than students and thus teachers?  

My thinking is that, the Government should expand the apprenticeship scheme to allow businesses to utilise more of their levy to support teacher training particularly in STEM subjects.

And when expanding this policy we should be ambitious. We should give businesses the opportunity not only to lend their funds, but also to take part in informing the curriculum, in training, in continuing professional development at the cutting edge of their work and in subsequently welcoming the students of the teachers they are linked in with to their business.

And we should aim high. This teaching apprenticeship should be targeted at the most able students – it should be an apprenticeship at a master’s level.  By allowing companies to partner with educational establishments to co-deliver a post-graduate teaching apprenticeship we would be able to modernise our educational offer. 

This would have so many advantages. Because if operated well, it would ensure that teachers have an ongoing up-to-date knowledge of their subject and sector, and be able to relate study to the work place. In circumstances where the Teaching and Learning Survey has shown that the number of days of continuing professional development carried out by our teachers is fewer than most other OECD countries, it would provide much needed support and training. This, in turn, would inspire and motivate the students being taught by these teachers.  It would also ensure that local skills needs were met by local talent in local schools.

I raised this issue in the debate on the Queen's speech last week and was immediately contacted by industry experts keen to discuss it with me.

So now is the time, if ever there was one, to properly engage businesses with learning, innovation and technology with schools and rise to the challenge of how we help to build the next generation, because it is our future.