T1. How many science and maths teachers have qualifications relevant to the subjects they teach?

Why this is important

The question of whether better subject qualifications lead to better teaching skills can be contentious – certainly every school leader can tell you about superbly qualified staff that are poor teachers, and vice-versa. But there is general agreement that, other things being equal, better subject knowledge leads to better teaching.

  • Teachers who are knowledgeable and passionate about their subject are better able 2 to inspire students to achieve the best results possible and continue with further education.
  • There are reports 3 and studies that suggest having a science specialist teacher is one factor that contributes to better participation and achievement in that subject. An Ofsted report from December 2013, ‘Maintaining Curiosity’ 4, highlighted the importance of specialist science teachers, and that recruitment of permanent science specialist teachers was a factor in schools in which science achievement had improved.
  • It is important to note that 11-16 schools may have different needs from 11-19 schools offering science and maths A levels; likewise, there may be different demands across Key Stages 2 and 3. Schools should look at how their science specialist teachers are deployed throughout the school.


A specialist teacher is described by SCORE (Science Community Representing Education)2 as a teacher who has a relevant degree in the subject they teach, or an equivalent qualification, or has had sufficient experience in the subject through their career, and then gone on to complete a teaching qualification in the specialist subject.

Table 1: Proportion of teachers with relevant degree or higher qualification in science and maths (for England, 2015)
SubjectNoTeachersProportion with relevant degree or higher qualification
Proportion without a relevant post A level qualification
General Science32,00078%9%
English (for comparison)37,00066%22%

Note: Teachers qualified in biology, chemistry or physics are taken to teach general science also, so someone with a physics degree is double counted as a physics teachers and general science teacher. These figures include Key Stages 3 and 4, and post-16; it is likely that more teachers are specialist in their subject further up the schools. The ‘subject mapping tables’ on the School Workforce in England data webpage list the relevant degrees.

  • There are many more biology specialist teachers than physics and chemistry specialists.
    • In 2010, the Institute of Physics stated that there was an average of 1.6 physics specialists per school and that there are 500 state schools with no specialist physics teachers at all.
  • A high number of teachers teaching science have no science specialism at all.
  • It is important to note that these figures include Key Stages 3 and 4, and post-16, and it is likely that a much higher percentage of science post-16 teachers are specialist in their subject.

Teaching quality

  • Most schools assess their teachers throughout the year, to check the quality of teaching in their school. Many schools make these assessments against Ofsted criteria.  In the Ofsted report, ‘Maintaining Curiosity’, 68% of Key Stage 4 science lessons and 59% of Key Stage 3 science lessons were deemed good or outstanding. In the Ofsted report, ‘Made to Measure’, 48% of maths teachers surveyed were deemed good or outstanding, with a lower number of good or outstanding teachers in Key Stage 3.

Ideas for improvement

  • A school may find it easier to attract and retain specialists if it clearly prioritises science and is able to offer a reasonable proportion of specialist teaching on the timetable, as well as attractive facilitieand professional development opportunities.
  • If it doesn’t already, your school may want to set up a way of assessing teaching quality internally. This is something that can be worked out between a governor and senior leaders. It will then show you whether your teaching quality differs across Key Stages or different ability groups.
  • Part of a governing body’s responsibility is to decide on the total budget allocated to staff salaries. It is important for governors to understand how and why the chosen figure is used.
  •  School Direct school-based training routes, or upskilling your teachers through intensive professional development courses (see T3) are alternative routes to subject specialist teachers.
  • One course available is a subject knowledge enhancement (SKE) programme, available for maths, physics and chemistry as well as other subjects.

Last updated July 2016

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