Need your safety questions answered? Teachers may not even know they belong to an organisation that can help. John Stringer explains the work of Cleapss
What do you do with a - crocodile? The phone rang last week and an infant headteacher asked if she could accept a stuffed crocodile from a parent.
This was just one of the hundreds of calls from primary schools received every year by Cleapss. Cleapss stands for the Consortium of Local Education Authorities Provision of Science Services - more simply the School Science Service, based at Brunel University.
This is the expert advice service for science queries in both primary and secondary schools. And the answer? The crocodile was acceptable for demonstration, but you can never be sure what it was pickled in, or stuffed with - so sadly it's best for children not to touch.
I was able to add - from experience - that the teeth of a dead crocodile are still sharp and backward-pointing, because there is something irresistible to small children about putting their hands in its mouth.
We all belong to clubs we don't use, such as the National Trust, but you may not know that you are already a member of Cleapss if you are a teacher in a local authority primary or in many independent primaries. The services is incomparable and free. (Scotland has its own equivalent, SSERC.) You can turn to Cleapss if you want help and advice with understanding science, and with practical problems, especially if they are to do with health and safety. Last year, enquiries on incubating eggs and caring for chicks topped the charts, with requests about tadpoles and frogs and growing moulds close behind. Queries about chemicals and forces are common, but fluffy chicks cause most concern. Every question gets an individual answer from an expert.
The first place to look is the website: www.cleapss.org.uk. This will give you an overview of the services and support. But Cleapss also produces its invaluable guides - traditionally bound in pale blue paper for speedy printing, light weight and low cost - on topics from using kitchen chemicals to how to choose construction kits. And every term, Primary Science and Technology, a compact journal stuffed with topical advice, should be in your school. If it isn't, ask your local authority, which distributes it, why not. Cleapss will tell you who is responsible for distribution.
For individual advice, you can email, write or phone Cleapss; you should get an immediate response. If your request is more difficult, they will call you back. A recent enquiry was from a primary teacher who wanted to move into science and drama. Cleapss was able to put him in touch with the country's leading exponents, and advise him on the areas of science most primary schools found difficult.
For the past few months, I've been developing lesson plans that will help primary science teachers with safety - not just how to be safe, but laying the foundations of children's understanding of hazard and risk. These will be on the Cleapss website this autumn. There will also be downloadable labels for your equipment drawers and boxes. Print them direct onto standard label sheets. Where relevant, they include simple and effective safety advice. And look out for a Cleapss poster for your staffroom, to remind everyone of the club they never knew they had joined. You can't miss it, it has fluffy chicks on it - of course.
* Cleapss, the School Science Service, Brunel University, Uxbridge, UB8 3PH
Tel: 01895 251496
Faxanswerphone: 01895 814372
John Stringer works part-time for Cleapss promoting safety in primary science