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Environment for innovation

John Holman looks at the professional development opportunities on offer at new science centres

This autumn sees the first of the national network of Science Learning Centres opening their doors to offer professional development across science education, from primary to post-16. As a pound;51 million joint initiative by the Department for Education and Skills and the Wellcome Trust, the network of centres has been created with some high goals to reach; not least to help British science education become the best in the world by 2015. Alan Johnson, minister with responsibility for science education, has acknowledged the need for "Science today to be taught in a lively and eye-opening way which reflects the many extraordinary life-changing developments going on around us". Science Learning Centres will give teachers, technicians and classroom assistants access to cutting-edge science and innovative classroom approaches to inspire students at every level.

Ultimately,the network will consist of nine regional centres, covering the whole of England and one National Centre, based at the University of York, which will offer residential courses for teachers from across the UK. Many teachers are drawn to science by the excitement of its potential: scientific discoveries can, and have, changed the world. However, in the day-to-day classroom it can be hard to keep up with the frontiers of science, let alone be able to translate these developments into lessons that meet curriculum and timetable demands. Working in partnership with industry leaders, research scientists and scientific organisations, from Nissan and Glaxo-SmithKline to the National Space Centre and the Science Museum, the Science Learning Centres will offer practical knowledge and experience. The courses on offer will range from science at key stage 1 to astrophysics at A-level to debating the ethics of genetic engineering.

Although the driving force behind the Science Learning Centres is innovation, the range of courses offered will fit together to support CPD, existing syllabus demands and national education strategies.

Courses will offer ongoing support through classroom exercises and online materials; all courses will include at least one day's training at a Science Learning Centre. Though schools may worry about the funds to support off-site CPD, a key focus of the centres is to bring teachers together away from school, free to explore new ideas in a conducive environment. During the summer each regional Science Learning Centre has been undergoing major refurbishment: all will be high-specification. The National Science Learning Centre opens in autumn 2005, in a newly-built pound;10 million venue whose design and fittings will demonstrate the principles of sustainability. Now is the time to get involved. Each centre is working closely with teachers and organisations to match courses with needs and aspirations of those science educators. Initial courses will be closely evaluated against these. With the right input, the Science Learning Centres can be more than deliverers of professional development: a focus for the best in science education for teachers to share successful methods, test new ideas, access all available resources and gain inspiration in what is the most inspiring of subjects.

* For locations of Science Learning Centres and courses available from October visit www.sciencelearningcentres.org.uk = Tel: 01904 435454 Professor John Holman is director of the National Science Learning Centre

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