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Chemist turns experience into gold

Dr Colin Chambers, teacher, modular A-level developer, industrial consultant and chief examiner, has won the prestigious Pounds 10,000 Salters' prize for chemistry.

Dr Chambers, 56, who teaches chemistry at Bolton independent school, Greater Manchester, was a finalist in 1993, the first year the Salters' Institute of Industrial Chemistry awarded the prize.

The two runners-up are Elaine Wilson of Parkside Community College, Cambridge, and Andrew Browning of Canford independent school, Wimborne, Dorset. They will receive Salters' medals.

The judges had difficulty in choosing the winner out of this year's 40 applicants, according to Dr Dorothy Atkinson, a former chemistry teacher and head, who is an education consultant to Salters. The institute, which had 70 applicants for the prize last year, is anxious to encourage more next year.

Dr Chambers started industry study tours in 1976 which are now run by the Royal Society of Chemistry. He devised them to improve teachers' knowledge of chemistry, many of whom had never had the opportunity to see the relevance of what they were teaching.

He is a chief examiner for chemistry for the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board, where he chaired the working party to develop its new modular A-level for chemistry.

"I have devised a syllabus which rewards what pupils can do," Dr Chambers said. "It does not penalise them for what they can't do." Even if the pupil did not get the A-level, they would still have something creditable to show an employer.

It was while giving a lecture about modular A-levels that Dr Chambers was finally convinced of their worth. Someone at the back of the hall kept asking awkward questions. Afterwards, that someone, a teacher, shook his hand and said: "You have given me hope for my students," adding that he taught in Manchester's Moss Side.

"I suddenly felt very humble," said Dr Chambers.

Dr Chambers, who is married with two children, also lectures teachers on new courses and on examination techniques; runs study days for students; and has an industrial consultancy. He was tempted to leave teaching once but says money comes second to enjoying his work, which involves teaching chemistry to non-chemists in the chemical industry.

He said all his work would not be possible without his wife, Sheelagh, a former civil servant, who was "my super support" and acts as a secretary for many of his extra-curricular activities.

And what will he spend the Pounds 10,000 on? "I think I will have to hand the cheque directly to Sheelagh."

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