A scheme originally devised by Mr. Simon Coyle, co-founder of the Brilliant Club, to improve pupils skills, is now supported by the government to help solve the mathematics and science teachers shortage. The scheme guarantees teachers will spend only 4 days per week in the classroom teaching, while the fifth day is reserved to conduct their own research, attend educational conferences, or work with small targeted group of pupils requiring additional assistance.

The scheme mirrors the “TeachFirst” programme implemented by Researchers in School, which aimed to recruit PhD graduates into teaching. The programme setup was attractive to PhD graduates as it allowed them to focus on their own research and skills while teaching.

Mr. Coyle believes the scheme could ultimately make teaching more appealing, and thereby relieve the pressures resulting from teacher shortages, specifically in mathematics and science. Initial results of the programme show that, out of 629 applicants, 77 were placed in teaching positions in September 2015, with the majority in mathematics and physics. Interestingly, 81% of applicants were not applying in any other manner, and therefore would not have joined the teaching workforce if it weren’t for Mr. Coyle’s scheme.

Dr. Richard Branch currently teaches at Lampton School, Hounslow, West London. He completed his PhD at Oxford University, and now teaches science under the scheme with the support of GlaxoSmithKline. He uses his fifth day to organize enrichment classes, ranging from day trips to the company’s headquarters to Q&A sessions with laboratory users. Dr. Branch reaches high for his pupils, as past guest speakers have included Formula One drivers Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen. Dr. Branch also uses his fifth day to research the causal effect of science teacher degree outcomes on the performance of their students.

Another PhD graduate from Oxford, Dr. Nicola Loaring, now teaches at Ivybridge Community College in Devon. On her fifth day, she runs an astronomy club for her Year 12 pupils. Dr. Loaring enjoys the extra time with her pupils, and is encouraged when she sees progress in children who typically struggle.

Mr. Coyle acknowledges that the 4-day work schedule condenses the teaching workload to accommodate the fifth day but is adamant it is far from a day off. Teachers not only have to condense their five-day workload into four days, they also have to add specific projects to their schedule to fill the fifth day. So far, the list of programme achievements is impressive: 887 hours assisting targeted pupils, 21 university visits, 667 hours spent on university research and 932 hours on research in support of publications.

The scheme is government-funded through 2020 in non-selective schools, and currently operating in London, Kent, Somerset, Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester, and Luton. Mr. Coyle indicates that long-term, the programme may be applied elsewhere in the sector to address additional workload issues. Ms. Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, supports the idea of implementing the government-supported program as it is in line with the union’s long-held policy of teachers giving 20% of their week away from the classroom. Headteachers can also assist in the alleviating the stress, but it’s going to take some time to see if the new Phd plan works out.