Witch 91: Engaging With Reality

Following on from Adam Carey’s report on the decline of enrolments in Specialist Mathematics, Radio National held an interview-discussionHow to re-engage students in mathematics. The interview was with the president of the MAV and the Chief Engineer of Engineers Australia. We haven’t the energy to document or analyse their various diagnoses and caveats and solutions. Go for it.

120 Replies to “Witch 91: Engaging With Reality”

  1. KS early on (around 2:00) mentions COVID as a major reason for Specialist numbers declining.

    H0: The rate of decline in SM3&4 enrolments was not affected by COVID.

    H1: The rate of decline in SM3&4 enrolments increased during COVID.

    I’m not going to attempt to calculate a p-value for this, but I’m pretty sure we cannot reject H0 at any reasonable level of confidence.

    (Forgive me if I add more comments as I continue to work through this recording… I’ll try to keep them brief)

    1. I think at schools where Specialist Maths has always had a strong presence, we don’t reject H0. But at schools (such as where the president of the mav is Principal) where there’s a smallish Yr 12 cohort and where getting a critical mass for Specialist Maths is touch and go in the best of years, I think H0 gets rejected.

      1. So do you think some school leaders push for SM to run even with small numbers while others simply park it in the “too hard” basket?

        Once a subject like that goes off the timetable, it is very difficult to get back. If there are no Year 11 SM students showing the Year 10s how much fun they are having actually learning some interesting Mathematics and the school doesn’t have a Year 12 SM class, so why bother replacing the SM teacher when they retire/leave/get sick… self-fulfilling prophecy really.

        1. “do you think some school leaders push for SM to run even with small numbers”

          Yes.

          “while others simply park it in the “too hard” basket?”

          No.
          Schools only have a finite amount of money (even less these days if they want to run camps and the DET is dragged kicking and screaming to what it already knows – teachers on a camp have a 24 hour legal duty of care, not a 6 hour shift or whatever the shonky time period being claimed by the DET is (*): https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/unhappy-campers-farcical-fracas-over-time-in-lieu-for-teachers-headed-to-fair-work-20230110-p5cbge.html)

          Some Principal’s have to make a decision on whether to fund a teacher for a class of less than 5 students (say) or to use that money elsewhere. It’s easy to throw peanuts from the cheap seats (high up in the ivory tower), but I honestly don’t know what I’d do if faced with these decisions. I like to think I’d find a way of running the class (even if there was only 1 student) because, as you rightly observe, it can otherwise become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

          If the govt was genuine about resolving this issue, it would provide the necessary extra funding to all schools (many of them in rural Victoria) that faced this decision. But the govt is too busy trying to screw schools over – fighting to NOT provide the money schools need to fund important and traditional programs (like camps) under the new EBA. The govt PR machine will be doing its best to blame the ‘greedy’ teachers for why the poor kids aren’t getting school camps anymore. (I predicted this would happen the day the new EBA was ratified by the govt). Sheesh … Why is there a teacher shortage?

          * I wonder what would happen if all the teachers on a camp who had finished their ‘shift’ clocked off and left the campsite until their next ‘shift’ …?? They’re off-duty, right? So no time in lieu for being off-duty, right? The Vic govt should hang its head in shame (but it won’t because it has no shame).

          1. “…cheap seat” in “…ivory tower”. Yep. That’s me alright… except my “tower” is on the middle floor and my school doesn’t have a football field (nor a cricket oval in case there is a difference). So I guess that makes mine a mid-priced seat in a concrete tower.

            And I’m not trying to throw peanuts.

            Government school principals (on the whole, with well publicized exceptions) do a tough job on any “normal” day and staffing I am sure is their most gut-wrenching decision each year.

            No, I’m having a go at the more well-to-do schools that do have the money to run a Specialist class with small numbers but for whatever reason do not hire the best possible Mathematics teacher when the current Specialist teacher retires – they want someone who can also teach the junior science class that needs staffing for a couple of lessons per week, or possibly something else totally unrelated.

            I’m also having a go at VCAA and their insistence on re-writing the curriculum every few years. What teacher wants to go through the efforts required to wade through the swamp of semi-sensical statements about what they need to teach, wait until mid-way through the year before they are given a sample of what the exam might look like (on which their teaching is to be judged) while all the way knowing that the possibility of an audit of their SACs likely grows each year that it has not happened…?

            1. Hi RF. I hear you. I usually throw paper planes rather than peanuts, wearing the other guy’s shoes is something I always have to make a conscious effort to do (and I often fail) because I always sit in the cheap seats.

              Yeah, schools bang on about catering for individual differences, world’s best practice yada yada. But they don’t include the fine print saying that this only happens when it’s pragmatic to do so. The more well-to-do schools that want the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none type teacher have a lot to answer for. Maybe their govt funding should be linked to the type of hires they make to fill a vacancy … As we all know, mathematics teaching – at all levels – requires specialist teachers, not generalists that can also take a bit of junior science, a bit of IT and can coach the Year 9 soccer team. And don’t get me started on Yr 10 ‘accelerated’ maths methods classes, where maybe 1/2 – 2/3 of the students are acceleration standard and the remainder make up the numbers because the school doesn’t want a Yr 10 maths class with only 12 – 16 students.

              The VCAA curriculum re-write every 5 years is ludicrous. Mainly because it’s never done well. We always get ambiguous crap and motherhood statements.
              A simple example: How hard is it to elaborate on finding asymptotes by using limits. Instead, you get a study design that encourages students to get asymptotes simply by rote inspection from ‘standard forms’, rather than being encouraged to understand their nature from a definition. And specifically in Specialist Maths, the diagonal asymptote of a rational function is encouraged to be found simply by using polynomial division and identifying the linear term. Deeper understanding is not encouraged.

              Question: How many students would know how to check if \displaystyle f(x) = \frac{x^2 - 1}{e^x - x - 2} has a diagonal asymptote and if so, find the equation? How many mathematics teachers could do this?

              What’s the point having diagonal asymptotes in the curriculum if students aren’t taught how to answer the above question? (This could be a potential blog topic …?)

              Many maths methods unit 3/4 students think that you can never cross an asymptote because that’s what they’ve been taught and that’s what the study design implies by omission. Methods students are lucky if they get a teacher that discusses this, with examples.

              VCAA can’t even provide the formula sheet for its exams, despite the new study design having been written 1 year ago. I could write a new formula sheet for Specialist Maths in 1 hour (this includes a lunch break). Some schools teach vectors as the first topic in specialist maths. Part of that teaching would be ensuring students understood what information they can access from the formula sheet. And they’d be thinking of testing students in perhaps the second or third week of term. A bit hard to do this when there’s no formula sheet. VCAA is lazy and inept and doesn’t give a flying Philadelphia about teachers. And teachers have to suffer the consequence. Sheesh …. remind me again why there’s a teacher shortage, particularly for high level maths? Because I can’t imagine why.

              1. Sure VCAA is a problem, we cannot deny that.

                VIT though is a particularly interesting one and I’m not willing to do the research to find out where the issue finds its roots here.

                It is two possibilities – the VIT reflects the expectations of society or society was misled by the reasons given for the creation of said VIT. Were we not told, back in 2003(ish) that the VIT was going to represent teachers? We had a union for that (which is a different story in the case of independent schools…)

  2. JM’s suggestion (around 4:00) that we need to make it “more fun” just doesn’t make sense. Before anyone throws the arguments at me (which I suspect won’t happen on this blog – thanks everyone)

    1. I’ve heard the argument before and reject both the premise and the conclusion.
    2. In many cases I see (the overwhelming majority), “more fun” means “less rigorous” which leads to massive issues further down the path.

    1. “more fun” for me means more physics and less statistics in Specialist.

      Edit: just gave it a listen and switched it off after I heard the word technology more than twice in two seconds.

      1. When “technology” is mentioned more than “proof” or “rigour” in a speech, you can kind of guess the conclusions, it is nothing new.

        Less statistics is fine, but can we cut the quasi-application crap while we’re at it?

        “Where will I ever use this?” Never. The situations presented in exams bear no resemblance to anything you will ever see in the real world; they are purely imaginary. The whole style of questioning is doing a lot of harm and it filters down a long way, quite possibly into primary schools.

    2. Indeed, RF. Sooner or later you have to pay the piper.

      And mentioning a useless, cluttered curriculum and a useless Study Design was conveniently omitted. It’s a real problem when even experienced and competent teachers of higher level maths don’t understand what parts of the curriculum are actually saying. And vehemently disagree with some of the crap that’s included. Only a total sap would want to teach it (and write the required SACs).

      Secondary school mathematics is being treated more and more as a servant to industry rather than an amazing and interesting human endeavour. (Does anyone ever ask “What’s the point of a question like
      “‘In Flames, it is Levi’s quest to save his sister that connects all the characters.’ Discuss.”)

  3. Something I thought was missing.

    Here you had the president of the MAV speaking about a number of issues. Apart from the idea of paying consultants to come and help teachers (I’m choosing to leave that one well alone!) there didn’t seem to be much in the way of ideas for helping the existing teachers stay in the profession.

    Felt a bit odd.

  4. “We haven’t the energy to document or analyse their various diagnoses and caveats and solutions.”

    I’ve listened to the interview and I don’t blame you for not having the energy. I will only comment on the first 2 minutes:

    The president of the mav is introduced as a professional “who [has] used high level maths across [her] career”.
    I find no evidence of that. Anywhere. Leadership of various numeracy programs, yes. Using HIGH level maths, no. (Do numeracy programs contain lots of high level maths?) To listen to the interview, you’d think the president was a former experienced engineer who made a career change to teaching rather than having a BSc with a major in zoology and administration experience. I’m happy to be corrected.

    President of the mathematical association of victoria – such a deceptive title. It doesn’t qualify you to have an expert opinion, although the general public (and obviously the interviewer) probably think otherwise.

    And the president essentially blames COVID for the decline in enrolments in high level maths …
    (I wish there was a way of asking how COVID can be blamed for a 32% drop since 2005).

    It was very hard to keep listening without screaming after this.

    After 2 minutes – At least Engineers Australia’s chief engineer Jane MacMaster was – relatively – more credible. Not that the general listener would be able to judge. But then it devolved to giving the simple solution – get more engineers to change careers and become teachers. Not withstanding this simplistic and one dimensional solution, the impediments to becoming a teacher were completely equivocated upon. And then we got the president again …

    Money is an issue but it’s also not an issue. We need engineers to become teachers and teacher consultants. We need female role models. Rhetoric straight out of the govt master plan playbook.

    Dissecting the interview will need to be a team effort because I’m cooked.

    Thanks for this post, Marty. I wish you hadn’t!!

  5. As someone who has been paying attention, to use Marty’s phrase, I did not learn anything from the interview.

    Here is a different idea to consider: Australia could import more mathematics teachers.

    1. I’ve seen and heard how well the ‘import solution’ works …. (Generally not well, for those who are wondering)

      1. @JF: For the sake of discussion, let me put the shoe on the other foot. Suppose that you or I were offered a position teaching mathematics in another country of our choice. How would we fare?

        1. I’d fare very badly in any non-English speaking country. I think I’d be OK in the UK. Or NZ. Not sure about the USA, mainly because of the gun culture that seems rife. Of course, I’m speaking from complete ignorance (and I don’t know if I’d be trading up or down). And it’s all hypothetical because I have no desire to teach overseas, although I’d possibly make an exception for Tasmania if the price was right.

          1. The concept of importing teachers is fine, in theory. Many things are.

            There are too many variables and not enough equations at play here though, so a unique and verifiable solution is simply not possible yet. Perhaps it never will be.

            Victoria is known (our premier has as good as admitted it) for importing health staff from other states. Unless other states have an over-supply then it simply moves the problem (I am trying SO HARD not to talk too much about the public-private divide here).

            Import teachers from the engineering profession. Great. Except there are an undersupply of engineers according to JM in this interview.

            “Funding” (in all its forms) seems to be a common theme in a lot of these arguments. Unfortunately, funding mathematics education in schools didn’t seem to rate a mention at either the state or federal elections in 2022 so maybe it is not a vote-changer.

            Maybe the best solution is to ask Marty to pass the vodka…

            1. And don’t forget that the vit will do its best to justify its petty, officious and useless existence by placing as many obstacles as possible in the way of those imported teachers. (They’ve had plenty of practice with graduate and re-registering teachers).

              As an aside, I’ve heard that there were a number of retired teachers who tried to return to teaching in order to help out in recent years. But the vit put so many obstacles in their way that most eventually threw their hands in the air and gave up. Good job, vit. I have no doubt you’ve contributed to the teacher shortage.

              1. VIT is unfortunately here to stay I suspect.

                Although I do think they are more Frankenstein’s monster, not the creator.

                Did the creator know they were building a monster in this case? (Quite possibly an irrelevant question).

                1. Does anyone know who the vit is answerable to? Are complaints about it addressed independently? Who was the creator and what control does the creator have over its joke?

                  The vit seems to be a law unto itself, accountable to nobody.

                  1. I assume VIT is answerable to the Minister for Education. I was told the name of the person primarily responsible for setting up VIT, and was told the person was a known screw-up, but I don’t know if either part is accurate.

                    1. Thanks, Marty. I’d wager the latter part is true.
                      Is your source reliable (or were they someone you don’t know, so you don’t know)?

      1. At least one of them will have a lot more to say, unless I’m greatly mistaken. We might not need to bother listening, but we’ll certainly have to see and hear (and probably have it imposed upon us by school leaders who don’t know any better and want to to be seen as ‘leaders of change’).

  6. Well I happened to listen to this as I was doing some laundry. At least something useful occurred in the 11 minutes of that interview.
    The interview:
    Wishy washy figures, vague ideas about encouragement and professional recognition, statements about teacher training, using applications of maths in teaching to “excite” students, appealing to female participants in maths (and teaching), midlife career changes to teaching, covid excuses and more money needed- there it is- now you don’t have to listen to it.

    ASIDE: I was curious about the current makeup of the MAV:

    13 members of the board (this includes 1 admin person- who presumably is the accountant). Why so many?

    I would have thought 7 would be (more than) sufficient.

    One each for:
    higher education ( a mathematician)
    vocational education and TAFE
    secondary teachers
    primary teachers
    industry ( an engineer or finance specialist perhaps?)
    teacher training ( a maths education academic).

    The accountant and technology roles would be non-board positions.

    And what do I actually find on the board?

    Two people who actually know any maths. Another 3 who think they know some maths but write appalling books. The rest are educrats and teachers. Plus the accountant.

    Good luck getting anything coherent out of that bunch that involves mathematics and mathematics teaching.

    As for the current president it appears that she has been placed at Heathmont Secondary College to remedy their abysmal performance record after being based in the Northwest region (Epping and Lalor). I had a look on SAP to see how many students have come from Heathmont that are currently attending the Go8 institution I teach at. That grand total is: 0…..not even 0!

    She is probably a very good person but given her background in lower SES schools she will take the MAV in directions that will result in even worse outcomes for students at the higher end of the spectrum of ability

    1. Simon T, I kind-of agree with your assessment of the board. It does currently seem very top heavy with educrats and primary school teachers. Then again, these sorts of boards tend to attract particular types of people. I can guess the two people who know any (higher level) maths. I think two of each is a reasonable number (given some members may not always be available for meetings). Depending on what the board actually does, I can see good reasons for including the accountant.

      Re: Current president placed at Heathmont Secondary College to remedy their performance record. Time will tell. We’ll see whether Specialist rides again in a few years time. I’m not going to judge academic performance. It’s all relative. I know very well that all students at some schools getting a VCE Certificate is a huge achievement. Comparable to elite schools where every student gets an ATAR of 99.95. So I wish the president (or should that be ‘super principal’ …? https://www.smh.com.au/national/super-principals-offered-top-money-to-turn-schools-around-20091211-kon3.html) best wishes for getting improvement. I’d measure her success by more than how many students get a Go8 offer. Personally, I think if the president can maintain a Specialist Maths class with at least 4 students at her current school from 2025, that’s a great success. And I’d be much more ready to listen.

  7. Is anyone else thinking of writing a Methods SAC about MineCraft now…?

    It would be funny.

    For about 8 seconds.

    To maybe 5 people.

    (Trying to decide if that is worth it).

    1. Nope.

      But I’ll bet school leaders will be telling teachers of Yr8 – Yr 10 to write plenty of trigonometry tasks about Minecraft. And maybe toss in some prosthetic limbs.

      It’s a lucky thing that G. H. Hardy never thought his work in pure mathematics would have any practical applications … And what’s the point of any of Ramanujan’s work? When will Fermat’s Last Theorem ever be used? More generally, I wonder how many people look at a piece of art or listen to classical music and ask “What’s the point? What will it ever be used?” Only in mathematics, where I think it’s used simply as an excuse to justify not making an effort. More and more, students are being inculcated that if it doesn’t have a use, then it’s useless (thankyou tertiary institutions). That, together with short attention spans that get pandered to, is a big part of the problem.

      1. “Only in mathematics, where I think it’s used simply as an excuse to justify not making an effort. More and more, students are being inculcated that if it doesn’t have a use, then it’s useless (thankyou tertiary institutions). That, together with short attention spans that get pandered to, is a big part of the problem.”

        Oh, how true this is. This needs to be sung loudly far and wide.
        Really getting tired and sick of students asking (demanding) every lesson – “when will this ever get used”.

        1. I enjoyed reading this:

          Click to access MH-CoreyWeb.pdf

          Vinculum (an MAV publication) also had an article earlier in 2022 (I forget which edition) titled “When Will I Ever Use This?” and written by Justine Healey that I liked. It’s probably copyright so I won’t attach a pdf.

      2. There is a story about a British tourist who went to see the Grand Canyon.

        When he asked his American tour guide “…but what is the point?” the tour guide pushed him in.

        Not a true story of course, but there is a parallel there somewhere. Add your own construction lines as required.

      3. “What’s the point? What will it ever be used?” Only in mathematics, where I think it’s used simply as an excuse to justify not making an effort.

        It’s not just in math, in English a lot of people asked when they were going to ever need to write essays on Shakespeare or god forbid write an essay “analysing” the arguments of an advertisement for a cafe.

        I don’t think people complained about other subjects though because they could choose them. If you don’t like physics you don’t have to do physics, and if you don’t like art you don’t have to do art. If you don’t like English you’re SOL and same with math if your course require methods.

        1. If you don’t like Methods but the course you want to do requires it, then I’d suggest to the student that they find a new course. Miserable as Methods is, it does have mathematical content and I’d argue that a budding engineer, physicist etc. that can’t grit their teeth and make the best of it is budding up the wrong tree.

          rgs, you’re right. It does happen in English. And yes, you’re right. Students who don’t like English are SOL. I wonder what we’d see if English wasn’t compulsory. I’m sure there would be discussions and summits on declining numbers … But you don’t hear too many people saying “I was never good at English” (and if you did, it certainly wouldn’t be said as something to be proud of!)

          Many students want the easy path, instant gratification. It’s easier to say “too hard”, “when’s it ever gonna be used” than to knuckle down and make the effort.

          Now here is something very interesting: It’s been said that English Literature is the Specialist Maths of English. It’s a demanding subject that can be done together with English (or in fact, by itself). Enrolments in English Literature are plummeting:

          3,619 in 2021.
          5,083 in 2015.
          A drop of nearly 29% in the same time period that Specialist has dropped by 15%.
          A drop of nearly 38% since 2009 (5,818).

          Can we ascribe this drastic decline to a lack of competent English teachers? We need to make English fun, with lots of real-world applications. Forget about getting Engineers to teach maths, we urgently need writers to teach English!

          There’s a drop in ‘hard subject’ enrolments. As I said above, many students want the easy path, instant gratification. It’s easier to say “too hard”, “when’s it ever gonna be used” than to knuckle down, make the effort and value knowledge. And many schools (and universities) are nurturing this attitude more and more.

          1. Thanks, JF. The drop in English Lit is interesting. i have no doubt that you are correct, that students are generally avoiding “hard” subjects, and that is part of the reason for the decline. But the English decline may also be due to a lack of good teachers, just as for Specialist. Given the general decline in reading, and the disinterest in (if not the denigration of) the classics, I’d be surprised if strong Literature teachers were easy to come by.

    1. I wonder if a MAV session on Minecraft would get a lot of takers… I’ve only ever seen (and heard) students engaging with it – my knowledge is extremely limited.

      Does it REALLY have PROPER Mathematics to offer, or is it a convenient “application”?

      1. The two articles show that one can find applications of probability in Minecraft that use ideas from school mathematics. Our school library has a display of many books on the game. All my students were familiar with Minecraft, some more than others. A few were well acquainted with the debate about the accusations of cheating in Minecraft and had strong views about the issue.

        We often hear that real world applications will inspire students. My question is “Whose real world – my world or that of the students?”

        When the delta strain of Coronavirus was rampant, I was teaching my students about the Greek alphabet. I asked them if they had ever heard of delta. They all said “Yes – it’s a team in Call of Duty.” I did not know what they were talking about; they were surprised at my ignorance of the real world.

  8. [About 7 minutes in]: “The difficultest [sic] part of teaching isn’t the content, it’s the working with young people”.

    I have never been a teacher. But I have tried. And I have observed lots of others (mostly failing miserably – often with great confidence; some being quietly effective; and a few strikingly successful).
    I see the above comment as half-true; but nevertheless pernicious.

    Understanding the content is a prerequisite, but does not immediately help me to teach it.
    Liking, and working well with young people on its own doesn’t help either.

    The challenge is to understand the content, and the challenges faced by the novice, sufficiently imaginatively to see how to lead them from initial darkness (not knowing; not caring) to the Light (where they can even find satisfaction in a degree of mastery, and mostly being able to overcome initial puzzlement).
    To make a career of this, you probably need to be better, or more natural, at working with young people than I am.
    But the most difficult bit seems to me that one also needs to understand the school syllabus content “better”, and more imaginatively, than most maths teachers seem to (so that we can envisage the difficulties that confront the average beginner; develop an approach that has a chance; and then understand the resulting frowns, or apparently dumb questions, as indicating that we may have skipped over, or the student may have missed, something essential but non-obvious).

    1. Thanks, Tony. I think your last paragraph is key.

      I’ve taught in and hung around Victorian schools a decent amount, and I rarely see the mathematics taught with a thoughtful, global view of what mathematics is to come. Sure, the lessons in Year N formally cover the prereqs for Year N + 1, but not deeply or consistently enough, not with sufficient tricky “what if”s, to prepare students for the next conceptual hurdles.

      I also very much doubt that any Maths Ed ITE program in Australia spends any non-trivial time on such curriculum overview. At least in my teaching degree, there wasn’t a hint of it.

  9. Yes Marty, mighty dispiriting. A large part of the discussion focused on how we might get engineers to change careers. Our profession is not able to deliver the goods, we need to seek help from those outside, engineers will be part of the solution (even though they’re hard pressed themselves). It’s a nice nod to that grand profession, what on earth is it saying about us?

    1. Indeed. Whatever the merits of such a suggestion, and I think they are few, the implications are massive, depressing and entirely unacknowledged, much less examined.

        1. I don’t care if things are insulting or not. I don’t think teachers, as a class, are close to being the main villains, but they are also far from innocent.

          1. I try not to feel insulted when someone in the press comes up with a suggestion for how to fix the issue of teacher shortages in Mathematics.

            I suppose the insulted feeling comes from two places:

            1. The idea that “teachers” are more or less the same, so if we hire more teachers, regardless of background, the problem is solved to some extent.

            2. I’m neither for nor against performance-based-pay as an idea, but the way it often comes up with reference to length of holidays etc, is insulting. Again, try to ignore, too busy trying to get ready for the new year.

            There are a lot of outspoken teachers who do not do their colleagues any favours. Some of them end up in the Liberal party… I find comments from these teachers-turned-politicians more insulting than anything else.

    1. Many countries have a shortage of (competent) mathematics teachers.
      If it were a short-term issue, then some of the suggested responses might be appropriate (and may be useful: e.g. workload, etc.). But if, as in the UK, it is a longstanding (and worsening) problem, then this is a waste of time. (These things have been tried, and the problem has got worse. So the noises made may be little more than empty virtue signalling. If the reason behind the shortage is not addressed, bursaries – for example – may simply keep the pool roughly the same size (i.e. too small) but throw most of the available money at selected candidates in this “too small” pool – many/most of whom would have gone into teaching anyway.)

      I am not an experienced political strategist, so I may be missing something.
      But whenever there is a long-term shortage, the only obvious strategy is to *increase* the pool of potential candidates – that is, expand the larger pool from which a significant number of secondary maths teachers come. (One could dredge the barrel by lowering the bar; but in mathematics this is unlikely to be a solution.) Although many maths teachers study something other than maths, it seems sensible to focus on mathematics graduates as a significant – and identifiable – such “pool”.

      In the UK this would be relatively simple (for addressing the supply of *secondary* maths teachers), because the numbers taking serious mathematics here in the last two years of high school have doubled (or more) since 2002 (a low point!). So one could simply double the number of undergraduate places in mathematics. As far as I can see, everyone would gain: employers would soak up many of them, but the number who consider going into teaching would inevitably benefit. Yet no-one seems to be in favour: even the mathematicians don’t seem to understand.

      From what has been said here, the same argument in Australia simply means that one has to start one stage further back, and first increase (dramatically) the uptake of the relevant mathematics courses in senior high school, with a view to then gradually expanding undergraduate mathematics numbers – and hence to increase the pool from which competent potential teachers might come.

      1. Thanks very much, Tony. Of course the radio discussion is absurd for the reasons you cite, that it proposes shortsighted solutions, without a hint of concern for systemic causes.

        Of course any solution has to be along the lines you suggest. But, as you hinted, the failings in Australia are so deep any repair must begin at a more preliminary level. In this regard, the new curriculum is a massive step towards further disrepair.

        And yes, with a very notable exceptions, Australian mathematicians have been useless. Or worse.

      2. “In the UK … the numbers taking serious mathematics … in the last two years of high school have doubled (or more) since 2002 (a low point!).”

        That’s very interesting. What has caused this? Was it a steady increase since 2002. Were there factors that caused a quantum leap?

        1. “What has caused this [doubling since 2002]?”
          The truth is:
          1. We don’t know “for sure”.
          2. It is partly MY distortion: 2002 was a low point after a botched change to A levels (age 18 exams) introduced in 2000. But the low-point was not “half” of what went before, and the subsequent increase is undeniable, and has been sustained (but is currently flat).
          3. My reading is that it was (for 5+ years) teacher-led: individuals and departments in schools sounded the alarm with management and worked to regain student confidence. They managed to turn the tide from around 2002. Later the government introduced initiatives (such as AMSP) which kept things moving in the right direction.
          4. Numbers had risen through the 1990s for an understandable, but not entirely satisfactory reason. Students who had previously left school at 16 were essentially forced to “remain in education or training”, so schools and colleges were faced (late 80s?) with an increased cohort of students who were not like those who had traditionally “stayed on” for academic courses in these last two years. One response (again largely bottom-up, form schools, projects, and exam boards) was to make everything *modular* [Ugh!], so that students could “nibble” at the syllabus material in smaller bites. This had negative consequences as regards “integrating techniques into effective use”; but it did serve its purpose. The proposed “Curriculum 2000” undermined this, and candidate numbers dropped 20% or so.
          5. What is clear is that demand for maths graduates far outweighs supply – which puts pressureon everything (including the supply of maths teachers). The only way I can see to relieve this is to increase supply. In the short term one can steal a few qualified teachers from the West Indies, or India: but the problem does not go away (and I would argue that the action is imperialist and immoral). The economy is screaming at us to increase the supply of competent mathematicians on all fronts. So this should be a priority at high school level – and once we manage to make progress there, at undergraduate level.

          But no-one else seems to see this: the university maths departments don’t seem interested in pressing for mass expansion; and politicians can’t see it as a win-win approach. So maybe I am missing something.

          1. Tony,

            What is the source of these data?

            In general, international comparisons of statistics are complicated by varying definitions. In Australia even interstate comparisons in educational data are complicated. Indeed, we could not agree on railway gauges!

            1. The data are robust – though my summary and recollection do warrant checking.
              Also the earlier historical data either weren’t collected, or are in a form that cannot be compared.
              But since 2000 data for UK, and for the four separate systems (England, Scotland, Wales, NI)
              have been collected and published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ):

              (1) Go to

              Examination results


              and select the year. (Each entry for Year N+1 has below it the number for Year N in parentheses)

              There are all sorts of “mathsy” (or statsy) qualifications I am ignoring for simplicity.

              Here I am referring only to the two main programmes:
              * A level Mathematics (a 2 year program which uses up slightly less than one third of each candidate’s academic study time during these two years)
              In 2002 the number of candidates was around 54K (1)
              By 2020 the number was nearly 94K (since risen to more than 97K)
              * A level Further Mathematics (ditto – slightly less than one third of each student’s two year programme: this includes things like complex numbers; more integration and differential equations; more trig and algebra; induction; etc.)
              In 2002 the number was below 5K
              [JCQ did not publish results in 2001/2; but the 2003 and 2004 figures were 5.3K and 5.7K (1), and in this case it is safe to exptrapolate backwards since the trends for Mathematics were so clear]
              By 2020 then number was 15K (since risen to slightly more than 15K).
              A level Mathematics is a prerequisite, so these students are either spending two thirds of their programme on maths, or (as is very common) they are keen and taking four subjects – squeezing “Further Mathematics” in as an “extra”.

          2. On point 5, is it clear that demand for maths graduates outweighs supply? How do you know that? Is that just in the UK? It was a while ago but I had a really rough time after graduating from my undergraduate maths degree, when it seemed no one wanted to hire me and I just picked up extra shifts at a couple of the (unskilled) part-time jobs I already had. Some people promote maths as a very employable major, but I never experienced that. I wonder what I am missing.

            1. Apologies: it is hard to be brief.

              I cannot comment on wst’s experience. But I take it as read that this is the correct first question to ask (preferably not as a cheap shot, designed to dodge the need to “Go and look for oneself”). If after going and looking, the answer is not 80% clear, then please do remain sceptical.

              Many mathematicians and maths teachers either recite the “highly employable” bit without thinking, or get stuck into thinking the answer is much the same as when they graduated in the 80s or 90s.

              Things changed here a long time ago; but most businesses continued as before – and many went under. Some areas woke up in the 90s – at first mainly finance, but now more widely – and started changing, and began to flourish. Most are struggling for lack of available expertise. This is captured to some extent by
              https://www.mathscareers.org.uk/where-do-maths-graduates-actually-work/)

              In the UK, some parts of government (e.g. the Treasury) know the answer and are worried – partly because they cannot get through to other Ministries. But most have their heads in the sand – so much so that 8 years ago the mathematicians woke up and made the case themselves:

              Click to access LMS-BTL-70_ReportFINAL.pdf

              This is not a case of “They would say that wouldn’t they”: mathematicians do not like having to make the real case for Mathematics – they prefer to get on with their mathematics.
              Boris Johnson’s main adviser then forced him in 2016 to commit to massive extra funding – but the adviser later got embroiled in a public falling out and everyone conveniently forgot (£176m has simply been used for other purposes).

              The typical citizen or politician hasn’t a clue how the world is changing (e.g. the Ukraine war is being fought in part by mathematicians and computer scientists behind the scenes!!)

              But those at the sharp end realise there is a problem: (you may be able to read the headline at least before the pay wall hits in)
              https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/russian-trader-gerkos-mission-to-help-british-kids-live-life-by-numbers-zjlplrxhf
              Alex Gerko is not alone (and thinks he can “buy” a solution for the UK: I rather doubt it!)

              On a more day-to-day basis, every single 21st century business or branch of government/administration (I exclude antique shops, or those selling crystals and joss-sticks) is up against challenges which are quintessentially mathematical, or which require mathematical competence – either directly, or implicitly: and the required mathematical competence is in short supply. )For example AI is a virus that seems to be more infectious than Covid – and which is being used blindly/badly – which is bound to lead to trouble, probably sooner rather than later. All public utilities seem to be vulnerable to outside interference.)

              In the UK the government has fits of understanding this, and going overboard. But politicians here have lost the art of “following through” (including asking the sceptical questions); and the civil service has been so hollowed out that it no longer seems to keep Ministers focused on what they committed to yesterday – so the standard response is to throw money at outside consultants with no relevant experience (other than how to win such contracts and write “reports” – and to hoover up large numbers of mathematicians to staff their consultancy teams!).

              The shortage of mathematically competent people is dire, and the need is growing – I suspect exponentially. In all the growth areas, there are loads of mathematicians, mostly out of sight, laying the groundwork.
              Two good tests:
              (a) Choose a growth area. Go look and find out what percentage of the mathematicians are home-grown. (There is nothing wrong with internationalising personnel to get the best. But every pyramid has to have
              a *base* as well as an apex, and the bulk of any human pyramid is best sourced locally.) My rule of thumb is that where this percentage rises above 10-20%, it is reasonable to consider whether the home-grown supply is adequate.
              (b) Look at what used to be ordinary businesses that either always needed, or have been recently “taken over” by new, maths-based processes, and assess (i) whether they are unusual, or rather common; (ii) whether they experience severe maths-manpower shortfalls; (iii) whether this leads to short-cuts and debacles.

            2. WST – my experience as a graduate Mathematics teacher seems to have been very similar to yours. In the end, I discovered that the demand was not spread evenly in terms of geography. Schools that had, in some cases, multiple vacancies for Mathematics teachers the year before I graduated had no need the following year.

              Of course, none of this was clear to me until many years (and a few schools) later. Demand may well outstrip supply, but it may also be the case that some schools are geographically located in areas that teachers cannot afford to live (as graduates at least) when costs of travel and other commitments that many career-changers may have are taken into account.

              1. Oh, I might have misunderstood because I took point 5 as relating to the employability of mathematics grads in general, outside of teaching. I took it to mean that if society pumps more people into mathematics in general, then there will be more who find themselves in the situation later on where teaching mathematics seems like a good (maybe their only!) option. But at the moment, they are turning out not even enough mathematics graduates to meet the non-teaching-employment related demand, so graduates are opting for jobs with better conditions rather than teaching. I wondered about this, because organisations like AustMS have been saying stuff like that for a long time in Australia; and it didn’t match my experience back then.

                I graduated as a teacher not long ago and I believe right now there is unmet demand for mathematics teachers. It seems easy enough to get a job as a maths teacher (but very difficult to actually do the job).

                1. Just out of curiosity ….

                  I like to read the Employment section of the Age, but for quite a while now I haven’t seen a lot of positions advertised for Mathematics Teachers. Maybe schools are too shy these days to openly advertise their staffing needs …?

                  So where are all these Mathematics Teacher positions being advertised? On-line somewhere? I know that the DET Recruitment On-line is where all positions for public schools are advertised. But what about the private schools? Are private schools typically outsourcing to Recruitment Agencies?

                  1. On average there are about 50 advertisements/week for mathematics teachers in Victorian government schools. Some of these positions involve another discipline as well: e.g. mathematics and science, or mathematics and PE, or mathematics and generalist.

                    The private schools do not have such a system. Many use seek.com.au Another place is https://www.anzuk.education/au/educators/jobs

                    1. I can say with some experience that a number of the better known schools (mostly large, inner Melbourne) simply put a notice on their own website under “Employment Opportunities” and then wait for the applications to flow…

                      Exactly why some schools don’t have to search as hard for staff is a conclusion I’m not willing to jump to, but one can speculate.

                    2. And it’s all those generalist positions that are diluting mathematics education in lower and middle secondary school (not to mention Primary School). Schools want a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none.

                      And people gnash their teeth and wring their hands wondering why enrolments in higher level maths are declining and what can be done about it. “Bring in the engineers”, they bleat.

    1. I assume this to be the case, I don’t correspond with that many teachers so can only guess. A few that I used to work with have moved to large, well known schools and found the position through the school website in 90% of cases (the other 10% were found through social circles apparently).

      The recruitment agency business must be big business as there are a few that seem to have large advertising budgets. The one Terry mentioned before even seems to be multi-national…

      1. A question to which I don’t know the answer is this. If I get a teaching position through anzuk, will I will be working for the school or anzuk?

        1. I don’t know about this organization but when I went for a job through one of their competitors I was told that the school paid the agency a “finder’s fee” upon my signing of a contract. The fee was proportional to the salary, I believe.

          I didn’t get the job and the agent was the poor sod who had to try to explain why (since there were no other applicants apparently…)

          Ah, fun times, trying to make sense of the world of education!

          1. RF, you were probably over-qualified and too expensive. And maybe you weren’t jack-of-enough-trades … Despite what they said they wanted, the fools probably didn’t want an actual specialist mathematics teacher. And you probably weren’t clear enough that in your classes the focus is first and foremost on using technology and having F*U*N.

            I’d like to see that school try the same stunt these days. Idiot leadership. That school deserves to get zero applicants and stew in its own idiot juices. It wouldn’t surprise me if that school is on my black list.

            There are plenty of schools that have treated applicants (including my good self) like crap in the past. I hope they’ve been hit by the karma bus in the last few years. When I’m asked by someone “Should I apply to [school X]”, I always make sure to say NO (and explain why) when it’s one of \displaystyle those idiot schools on my list.

            The earth turns slowly but the ox is patient.

              1. I haven’t seen that quote in a long while.

                (For the uninitiated: There are dangers in climbing up the corporate/government ladder, so most people remain “weasels”).

                I’ve been a weasel all my life (mainly because eagles in education get the marrow sucked out of their bones and then are tossed aside like last week’s newspaper).

                1. It may be no fun at the top, but it ain’t no picnic at the bottom either!

                  Excrement rolls down hill… (and I’m misquoting so as to hopefully not fall foul of the filter)

  10. Getting back to the supply-side issue, perhaps someone with more recent experience in a university will know the answer to this… in the 1990s, Mathematics was HECS band 2 when it came to pricing subjects, but by the mid 2000s it was moved into band 1, making each subject cheaper to study.

    Did this have a positive impact on enrolments?

    In other words… would making education degrees cheaper (or free) for anyone studying to be a Mathematics teacher increase the supply of Mathematics teachers?

    In Victoria, certain TAFE qualifications are “free” because the trades are deemed “in demand”, so I do wonder how much more “in demand” Mathematics teachers need to be before their qualifications become fully subsidised…

    1. Thanks, RF. Good question. I’d be sceptical that the fees are all that discouraging, at least in comparison of two years of ITE edu-idiocy. But, i’m just guessing.

        1. I’d just be guessing, and it’d be good to see the data for the effect of such (properly comparable) past schemes. But, my guess is that this latest thing could attract more teachers to Woop Woop High, which would be very good, but that it’d do little or nothing to increase the overall pool of teachers. It’s also no surprise that a 1.5 year teaching degree is no great attraction, since 1.5 ≈ 2.

          I don’t see that any such schemes can substantially increase teaching numbers, because they don’t address the fundamental causes for the perceived and actual unattractiveness of the profession.

          1. This scheme has been running since 2019. There should be data available.

            That the article did not present much in the way of figures suggests that either the data is not easy to find or is not recorded in a way that is easily understood.

            I could be wrong.

            1. Or there’s been bugger-all uptake (for a number of reasons) and nothing for the Govt to trumpet about.

              The program’s primary aim is to ‘close the gap’, not attract more teachers (and could it end up ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’?)

              To be frank, a decent graduate teacher could probably get a position in a private school and pay off their HECS debt incrementally over 10 years (and not even notice), as opposed to being bonded to a (potentially very challenging) position for 4 years to achieve the same result a bit sooner. Plus, I think a HECS debt is not something that will cause worry in the short term, as opposed to getting a good position with good conditions. So I don’t think the program offers an incentive that would be seen as attractive for a 4 year investment.

              And the risk. I understand the reason for the 4 year period, but what if you find by half-way through that you don’t enjoy teaching in a remote community. Do you tough it out for 2 more years to get the reward, or do you leave with only the 2 years of experience?

              It’s a great idea. Similar to programs that have run for many years with the aim of getting more doctors into rural Victoria (and which don’t seem to have had much impact). But I think there needs to be a greater incentive, given what the graduate teacher is potentially sacrificing and risking.

              Maybe there should be a decent incentive for pre-service teachers to do one or more teaching rounds in a remote community. A graduate teacher would then be able to make a more informed decision, plus they would already have valuable cultural experience if they decided to apply for the program.

              1. Country high schools are great. I started at one (then moved to another one for a bit) and the advantages were easy to find:

                1. You are rarely the only new teacher in the school, so the school knows how to support graduates.

                2. Opportunities (to teach a Year 12 class, be a Year Level Coordinator or some other leadership role) come up frequently and your application is taken seriously.

                3. Compared to the cost of rent, your salary is decent and if you can get a rental in town, your travel costs are also not something you worry about.

                Then we come to the list of negatives…

                1. Specialist classes run maybe once every 5 years. Sure, you will get the occasional distance-education student studying SM but tutoring them will not count as part of your load.

                2. You are rarely “off” if you live in the same town as your students (and attend the same watering hole as a lot of parents…) which can be a challenge.

                3. The actual teaching can be a lot more difficult, depending on the level of resourcing.

              2. When I did my MTeach at Deakin, we were given a choice of where we wanted to do our rounds. We provided the university with a list of 3 or 4 preferred schools; I always got my first choice. My placements were in a fair size Catholic school, a large government school, and a small Christian school. One of my colleagues got a placement in a very remote community in NT – there were special incentives associated with these placements.

                Having spoken to other new graduates, not all universities do this.

                1. Re: “One of my colleagues got a placement in a very remote community in NT – there were special incentives associated with these placements.”

                  Out of curiosity, what were the special incentives?

                  Re: “Having spoken to other new graduates, not all universities do this.”

                  I wonder what their answer would be if asked why they don’t do this?

                  1. @JF: I recall the incentives included expenses for travel and accommodation – but I can’t be sure.

                    On your second question, a friend of mine lived in Bendigo and was doing her MTeach through a major university in Melbourne. All her rounds were in Melbourne. I asked why didn’t the university place her in Bendigo. Her reply was that the university people told her that they did not know anyone in Bendigo to contact.

                    1. Thanks, TM.
                      The incentives don’t seem very incentivising. In fact, they seem to merely neutralise some otherwise big disincentives to doing a placement in rural Victoria.

                      Re: Second question. That begs the next question – Why hadn’t the major university in Melbourne cultivated contacts in rural Victoria?!

            2. If you go back far enough, new graduates in NSW who were going into teaching were required to teach in country schools for a couple of years. A few years ago, the federal government introduced a scheme to pay the HECS debt for teachers who went to schools in defined remote locations. (Remoteness is a well defined term; only a small part of Victoria is classified as “remote” and no part of Victoria is classified as “very remote”). In Victoria some teaching positions that are deemed hard to fill are classified as TFI (Targeted financial incentive) positions. I guess that the school has to make a case as to why the position is hard to fill. During the last week, 14 such positions have been advertised, 4 of which are either mathematics or mathematics and science.

              1. More about the TFI here:

                https://www.vic.gov.au/targeted-initiative-attract-more-teachers

                In practice, I wonder how brutal the paperwork is (pages and pages of ‘evidence’ required?) and how long it takes to get a decision. And such incentives seem to be robbing Peter to pay Paul. Re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. These incentives are aimed at trying to reduce geographical and socio-economic inequity rather than increase teacher numbers.

                The best way to reduce inequity is to have programs and incentives that increase teacher numbers.

                Re: “If you go back far enough, new graduates in NSW who were going into teaching were required to teach in country schools for a couple of years.”

                That’s very interesting. Was it legislated? Otherwise it looks like a restriction of trade to me. And I can’t see how it made going into teaching attractive. Who required it – a New South Wales Institute of Teaching …? Why was it abolished – a decline in graduate teacher numbers? Maybe there was a legal challenge?

                1. What theoretically possible programs or incentives might increase teacher numbers enough to matter? What genuinely possible programs or incentives are there?

                  1. I’ve said it before – ITE that includes a paid 1 year placement. My off-hand suggestion:
                    A 2 year Masters of Teaching that includes a one semester paid placement each year.

                    Another suggestion would be higher salaries. The beginning salary is excellent but it flattens out very quickly unless you start trying to climb the greasy pole which takes you further from teaching and closer to administration. One of the things that happens in Finland, Singapore etc. that doesn’t get mentioned in the cherry-picked things of what we should do to improve education in Australia.

                    And to those people who bleat about how it shouldn’t be about money, wake up. Teachers work to earn money to support themselves and their family. You want to respect what a teacher does, pay them what they’re worth. None of this crap about how teachers get heaps of holidays (the arguments against that facile opinion are well documented) and how teachers should be doing it out of love of teaching. (Lawyers might do what they do out of love, but that doesn’t stop them charging $150/hour. And teachers are more important than lawyers).

                    1. Obviously it can’t hurt to improve the pay, and I’ve argued the same as you, but I wonder how much the money really matters. I’m no longer so convinced. Picking a large number at random, suppose teacher salaries were uniformly raised $30K. Would that have kids flooding in to be teachers?

                    2. I wouldn’t say flooding. But I think numbers would steadily rise. And the increase in pay would help retain teachers once you had them.

                      But schools, particularly public schools, would also need to do their bit – significantly change their culture. Get rid of all the paperwork and let teachers teach. Only require teachers to be on campus when teaching or required for meetings etc.

                      It’s amazing what gets cherry picked from overseas education systems by educrats in discussions like this and what gets ignored … You never hear the above getting suggested.

                      It will be a cold day in hell before public school leadership overcome their legacy thinking and embraces a more attractive work-place culture. This is why private schools will attract and retain teachers whereas public schools will continue to struggle. And note – many private schools \displaystyle are paying the extra $30K. And I don’t hear too many having trouble with staffing.

                    3. Well, if teachers are getting more than teachers are getting, it’s muddying your argument. As is the add-on that “schools… would also need to do their bit”.

                      I think that’s the point. There is *plenty* unattractive about teaching beyond the low pay and low status. I don’t know that incentives that fail to address the fundamental drawbacks of the actual job can be very successful. Speaking for myself, wild horses, including or not a pot of money, couldn’t drag me back to regular teaching.

                    4. Maybe not wild horses or a pot of money, but what if you were offered 1 million a year to teach and only teach? (Or 10 million …?) You see my point?

                      Of course, as I said earlier, school leadership would need to abandon its legacy thinking, change the workplace culture.

                  2. In that interview, the last few minutes seems to be devoted to the question of how we can attract certain people to teaching despite the drop in pay that they would have to deal with. The naive answer that comes to mind is to pay teachers more, but they instead seem to conclude with a suggestion that we make up another job called “consultant” that somehow doesn’t require the skills of a teacher but pays more than being a teacher (I think that’s what she was saying?). Between the lines, I hear the idea that people doing any other profession (engineer in this case) are considered more valuable and capable than teachers.

                    But I’m not sure where paying teachers more sits between theoretically possible and genuinely possible.

                    1. Yep, let’s making teaching an attractive profession by saying that teachers are less valuable and capable than engineers (or lawyers, or accountants etc.) You were interviewed by idiots.

                      Re: “I’m not sure where paying teachers more sits between theoretically possible and genuinely possible.”

                      Of course it is genuinely possible.

                      Education and health are the two areas that every Govt for the last 30 years has thought it could screw over without any consequences. Gigantic hens have now come home to roost. And now the cost of fixing the problems is exponentially more than the money Govts would have spent if they had had the brains and political will to invest appropriate funding over the last 30 years.

                    2. Aha. Yes. Sorry, wst. Of course. The interview that started this blog post. It has gotten a bit over-shadowed …

                      Of course, any advocate for the engineering profession is going to pump up engineers. A pity this promotion got done at the expense of the image of teachers.
                      Because only an idiot would think that saying teachers are less valuable and capable than engineers (or lawyers, or accountants etc.) makes the teaching profession look more attractive …

                  3. If you want more teachers and better teachers, you need to raise the status of the profession.

                    In Australia, to a very large extent, status correlates with salary so to raise the status of teaching, you must raise the salaries.

                    There was no end of commentary during the home schooling experience about parents finally (?) realising just how hard the job can be; back onsite and… that is yesterday’s news.

                    As to how to pay for it? Easy. The same a country pays for everything else: make a decision about how much you need to spend, how much you are prepared to tax citizens and businesses and go from there. Of course, actually collecting the tax dollars owed from property investors and certain companies is another matter.

                    1. Yeah, it’s very disappointing how “yesterday’s news” it has become. That’s human nature for you.

                    2. One clearly want to raise the status of the profession. I’m not sure this is an economical, or feasible, way to do it.

                    3. Queensland Govt negotiated an EBA where the top level classroom teacher gets $150K.

                      In the meantime, Victorian Govt negotiated an EBA that will see programs (such as camps) slashed in schools, teachers getting squeezed even more (as schools try to save money for the time in lieu that is unavoidable). And teachers got a pay cut relative to inflation.

                      NSW Govt will probably negotiate something in between.

                      We’ll have to wait and see how things go in each state in attracting and retaining teachers.

                    4. Yeah, but in Victoria’s case I think it’s reasonable to say that there was a fine line between the two (from what I hear) …

                    5. I’m not sure of your point. The agreement appears to be idiotic and poisonous, and you seemed to solely blame the government. Is the union not as much to blame?

                    6. Of course the union shoulders blame. The union is far too cosy with the Govt.
                      But the Govt should never have signed off on the agreement. It should have said “Look fellas, schools won’t be getting any extra money, so this EBA is gonna be terrible for schools. We’re not gonna sign off on this. Go away and think it through, talk some more to your members.”

                      But now that the deed is done, the Govt should be stumping up the money to pay for the consequences. Instead, it’s trying to make teachers and schools look like the bad guys.

                      In my opinion, the Govt carries the bulk of the blame.

                    7. @RF “If you want more teachers and better teachers, you need to raise the status of the profession.”

                      But there is no shortage of people wanting to be politicians.

                2. Knowledge of TFI is above my pay grade, so I am guessing here. I don’t know how much paper work is required, but I suppose that if a principal has been successful once, it would not be difficult to repeat the exercise.

                  The NSW scheme was quite likely an unfair restraint of trade and this may have contributed to abolishing it. It would have been part and parcel of the scheme of teachers college scholarships that were available then. These scholarships were quite valuable and not that hard to get. It has been argued that they contributed significantly to encouraging more students from a less well-off backgrounds to go to university. And, students on these scholarships were in their generous superannuation scheme from Day 1 of university. (They probably did not realise the benefit of this at the time.) Of course, once university fees were abolished, these scholarships – and many others – were also abolished.

  11. Not a very nuanced take, but I think one of the things that makes Specialist unattractive is Maths Methods… eg. I remember talking to a younger student who had 2 slots left and was choosing out of Methods, Specialist and Chemistry. She wanted to do Chem at uni so I advised ‘definitely do Chemistry’. But, that automatically meant that she couldn’t do Specialist, as you have to do Methods if you do Specialist (the school’s rule). Otherwise she might have done Specialist and Chemistry. I think a number of students who would be fine in Specialist just don’t have space for 2 maths subjects. Doesn’t really explain the decline though… unless Specialist wasn’t as tied to Methods in 2005?

    1. Thanks, aps. Interesting story, and see this post-and-replies. There, I suggested that some good students may wish to simply duck Methods, if that were permissible. The strong response from the commenter-teachers, however, was that, independent of legality, my suggestion was pretty silly. It’s notable that you present a clear case where ducking Methods would have been the smart thing to do, and that the school demanded that the student do the stupid thing.

      More generally, however, I’m sure that the kind of scenario you raise is an outlier, and has very little to do with the decline of numbers in Specialist. There are obvious, elephant-sized reasons for the decline, and the media’s “how did this happen??” articles are simply absurd.

      1. Yes, I agree it’s not a main reason for Specialist enrolments declining. On the point of ducking Methods, my VCE experience leads me to believe that even if the content of Methods were completely irrelevant to the content of Specialist, Specialist students would be pressured into doing Methods for easy ATAR points, the same way they’re encouraged to do Further, and discouraged (or forbidden) from doing VCE Enhancement.

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