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Initial innovation

Gerald Haigh reports on the launch of a new national centre which has been developed to help student primary teachers acquire the science they need. SCIcentre - a national centre for initial teacher training in primary school science run by primary teacher trainers and funded by the Society of Chemical Industry - launches this month.

If it lives up to the vision of its founders, it will become an important resource for all those who spend their time helping student teachers to grapple with science in the primary sector.

Science is not, contrary to a general assumption, a recent arrival into the primary school. What the national curriculum did, though, was bring about a huge expansion in the subject.

Inevitably, the realisation dawned that by no means all non-specialist science teachers really knew what they were doing.

Various remedies were forthcoming - publications and training initiatives by the Association for Science Education, courses funded by the Department for Education and Employment, distance-learning packages, and lots of books.

At the same time, initial teacher training institutions have been developing their own primary science courses, trying, within a crowded programme, to give student teachers more knowledge of science and to help them to develop good classroom practice.

As a result, some creative and exciting materials and courses have evolved. It would be useful if these were made generally available, so that individual institutions were spared from continually re-inventing the wheel.

It is exactly this that the SCIcentre aims to do by developing a database of ideas and expertise.

It is not surprising that the impetus came from outside education. The leaders of science and technology-driven industries have a common concern not only about recruitment, but about the negative way that children perceive science and scientists.

The Society for Chemical Industry, therefore, has decided that one way of addressing this is to support initial teacher training, and is making Pounds 400,000 available to SCIcentre over four years.

SCIcentre will make good ideas from colleges and university departments accessible in many ways, including via the Internet.

The idea has been developed and brought to fruition by primary education and science specialists at Leicester University School of Education - where SCIcentre will be based - and Homerton College. The SCIcentre director is Tina Jarvis, who is responsible for the primary PGCE course at Leicester.

Her assistant director is Philip Stephenson, primary science specialist at Homerton, and their deputy is Frankie McKeown, a science tutor at Leicester.

One of their initial tasks, explained Tina Jarvis, will be to contact initial teacher training institutions and ask them how they are dealing with their postgraduate and undergraduate science students. The message, she says, will be: "Let's pool the good ideas and try to make our work that much more effective."

To begin with, until the cross-fertilisation takes off, ideas from Leicester and Homerton - on such topics as children's understanding of chemistry, pupils' perceptions of scientists, and the use of information technology in science - will probably make up most of what is available.

"We're producing our own projects as examples, but we're not saying we are the only people with ideas. Growth over the following three years will depend on the developments that we find in the other institutions," Tina Jarvis says.

In the first year, a great deal of visiting will be done - Philip Stephenson and Frankie McKeown will be building up contacts with other institutions across the country.

As part of their promotion of SCIcentre, Tina Jarvis and her team will have a lecture slot at the Association for Science Education's annual meeting, to be held from January 2 to 4 1997 at Birmingham University

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