Motivating teachers and increasing their confidence is something every government wants. The Green Paper on teaching published earlier this year, Meeting the Challenge of Change, says "a continuing commitment to professional development throughout a career should be at the heart of teachers' professionalism". Thanks to a new programme from the Association for Science Education, keen science teachers have been able to explore what this might mean.
The ASE's Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme was piloted with 21 teachers in 1997-98, and by this time next year about 90 teachers will have been involved altogether. The programme gives relatively inexperienced science teachers - those beyond the first year of teaching, but not yet at the level of subject leader - a framework for recording their progress and discussing it with a mentor, usually a senior teacher in the same department.
Mentors also find the programme to be professionally beneficial and, like the participants, they receive an ASE certificate at the end.
The programme begins with a conference where the teachers discuss professional priorities with their mentors. These are based on the CPD scheme's seven areas for professional development: subject know-ledge, pedagogical content knowledge, practical teaching skills, theoretical understanding of teaching and learning, knowledge of external changes affecting science teaching, personal attitudes towards science and science teaching, and personal skills (management, administration, team working). As the year progresses, the teachers build up a portfolio of "evidence", and are in continuous discussion with their mentor.
Jason Jones, of Northfield upper school in Dunstable, was in his fourth year of teaching when he embarked on the CPD programme. "I've looked into motivating weak students who don't find science relevant to them," he says. "I've also looked at team teaching and at science teaching outside the lab - in the library, for instance. It's what I would do anyway, but this has given me a framework to map my professional development. I've found it very motivating."
At St Mary's school, Wantage, biology teacher Jo White has been delighted with her first year of CPD. She has been developing the scheme of work for key stage 3, as well as looking at a scheme of work for her A-level teaching. She gives the programme the credit for her being a regional finalist in the new teacher category of this year's National Teaching Awards.
"This has been a very rewarding year for me," she says. "I feel that the CPD programme has helped me to focus on particular aspects of my teaching and given me greater confidence."
Malcolm Oakes, who runs the CPD programme as director of ASE Inset Services, explains that "the programme is appropriate for all levels of experience. The TTA has standards for teachers on entry, and for subject leaders. There's a gap in between and we see ourselves filling that purposefully."
Malcolm Oakes has high hopes for this form of CPD, which he feels could work in every area of the curriculum. "I know that there is something here that could make a difference to classroom practice across the country."
Both Dr Moore and Malcolm Oakes say the process is more important than any award. "If you start off as a teacher who thinks deeply about your professional practice," says Malcolm Oakes, "you are likely to continue in the same way."
The CPD programme is run byASEINSETServices, Barclay's VentureCentre, University of Warwick Science Park, Sir William Lyons Road, Coventry, CV4 7EZ. Tel: 01203 690053