All fired up to take the lead

23rd February 2007 at 00:00
A new generation of heads of science is coming on tap via a course aimed at providing leadership and teaching skills, says Nick Morrison

Peter Eyre's problem was keeping his opinions to himself. Although he had qualified as a science teacher only three years earlier, he knew he didn't want to remain a foot soldier for long.

His solution was to enrol on a course aimed at training the next generation of heads of science departments.

"I always found it difficult to keep my mouth shut," he says. "I was not happy just being a cog in the wheel, and it seemed a natural progression to be in a position where I had not just thoughts about what was happening, but some say as well.

"But the prospect of making that leap without any help is quite frightening, so I decided this route through the science network would be the one for me."

Peter was one of the first teachers on the course, which started in 2005 and involved four residential periods over 15 months.

The course, entitled Leadership for Impact: New and Aspiring Heads of Science, was created in response to the national shortage of science teachers, says Andrea Mapplebeck, professional development leader at the National Science Learning Centre.

A report published last October by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation said it would cost about pound;24 million to retrain existing teachers to meet the shortfall over the next seven years - and that is in addition to the pound;30 million the Department for Education and Skills intends to spend on recruiting science teachers over the next two years.

"The difficulty in recruiting in science is having a knock-on effect on leadership," says Andrea. "We believe those who take on leadership in the subject tend to be at the forefront of delivering outstanding lessons. But there was nothing out there that had an onus on leadership with a specific science element, so we thought we would create our own."

The course aims to provide both leadership skills - managing and inspiring colleagues, controlling budgets and timetables, and running meetings - and teaching skills, along with demonstrations of outstanding teaching from practitioners. Participants also choose a project to put into practice in their own school after each residential session.

"We want to get them inspired and for them to take that into their departments," says Andrea. "If they can go out and enthuse those below them, that is a fantastic thing."

At the start of the course, one of the 13 was a head of science. By the end, there were five heads of science, as well as a head of personal, social, citizenship and health education; a head of Year 7; a deputy head of sixth form; a deputy head of science; and a head of chemistry.

Allie Denholm, 37, had just been appointed head of science at Uplands Community College in East Sussex when she enrolled. She was looking for practical help to ease her transition. "Having not been in charge of a department before, it made sense to go on a course, and the kind of objectives they were hoping to achieve matched what I wanted," she says.

"You don't just become a good leader, you need advice and practice. And the course was very much about working through role-plays and getting used to the sort of conversations you might have with people.

"Although I read a lot beforehand and I have lots of support from the school, it is good to have the space and time to think."

For Allie, being a good leader is bound up with being a good practitioner.

"It is very important I can do the job in the classroom. You lead by example and it is hard to inspire unless you are a good teacher," she says.

"If you are going to move teachers forward, coaching is important to help them see where they can improve and make the best out of their practice,"

she says.

One technique she brought back was to set up a series of experiments putting teachers in the position of pupils, to demonstrate how their teaching could be improved.

Allie (above) says the sessions on emotional intelligence helped show her which aspects of her leadership are stronger than others and where to focus her attention.

"The course has given me a lot more confidence and made me think about more effective ways of doing things," she says. "It gives the confidence to try out new things and it has given me a focus for my training."

Since starting the course, Peter Eyre, 32, has become deputy head of the seven-strong science department at John Spence Comm-unity College in North Tyneside. He is now looking for head of department positions.

"You enjoy the fact that you do a good job in the classroom, and you think there must be ways you could tweak that and hopefully make a difference across the department," he says. "The course was varied, trying to broach every aspect of being an outstanding teacher and leading a department."

He believes in the importance of setting a good example, but adds that this alone does not make a good head of department. "It is very important to be a strong inspirational teacher, but you can have exceedingly good teachers who might struggle with managing a department," he says.

"Running a department is about allowing people to take responsibility. The most important thing is that you should be open to new ideas."

For those who would be boss

The National Science Learning centre is based at York University and was set up in November 2005 to provide professional development for science teachers and technicians from across the UK.

It is funded through a pound;25 million grant from the Wellcome Trust, the biomedical research charity, and run by a consortium of York, Leeds, Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam universities.

Other residential courses this year include how to encourage girls to study physics, teaching science in challenging schools, teaching primary science, and a summer school for new and recently qualified teachers. Additional courses are held at the nine regional science learning centres across England.

The next Leadership for Impact: New and Aspiring Heads of Science course will begin at the National Science Learning Centre in York on October 17-19, 2007.

Teachers from maintained schools can apply for a bursary from the centre to cover the cost of their course fees. More details about the course can be found at

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