Convert who became a leader;People;Interview;Rosemary Feasey

1st January 1999 at 00:00
A teacher who loathed science as a child is now the primary force in the Association for Science Education. Karen Thornton talks to her

"I HATED science at school." It's a bit of a show-stopper, coming from the chairwoman of the Association for Science Education, and the first primary practitioner to hold that post. But Rosemary Feasey makes up for her late conversion by her evangelism for the ASE and primary science.

A lecturer in primary science education at Durham University, she taught in the city's junior schools for nearly 10 years before becoming an education authority adviser and then an academic.

And according to her university boss, David Galloway, her teaching is helping turn out similarly-enthused new science teachers. "Rosemary brings the enthusiasm, energy and imagination of the best of primary-school practice to everything she does," he said. "Her research on investigation and use of evidence in science teaching has a national reputation. She's a lively, stimulating colleague, and an outstanding practitioner," he said.

Rosemary Feasey discovered the association as a classroom teacher, and has been actively involved ever since. She is clearly enjoying her year as chairwoman, claiming to be less shattered than normal by this time of the academic year.

A softly spoken 43-year-old with greying hair, she lives in Durham with her widowed mother, next door to sister Melanie and her three daughters. She talks about "the kids" - Collette, eight, Simone, nine, and 13-year-old Katrina - with great affection.

"With three girls, it's pretty good to have me as a role model, to see someone in science doing things and being very active. I would hope it would encourage them to think they could do things. It's also important that message goes to teachers. I started off as a primary teacher and ended up as chairwoman of the association - which means other teachers can do that," she says.

Born in Nottingham, her own schooling was marked by frequent moves - she blames her father's "itchy feet" - and included more than two years in Melbourne, Australia. The family went out on the 1960s wave of pound;10 passages, but returned after a close relative died.

At junior school, she dreamed of being an ice-skater, and her favourite subjects were the arts, history and geography. Science was a distinct turn-off - "my teachers weren't the most inspiring" - and she specialised in geography-based environmental science during her BEd studies at Nottingham University.

Her passion for science was awakened by one of her first classes - a recalcitrant bunch of eight-year-olds, 60 per cent of whom were non-readers.

"What engaged them were things like science fairs, because their difficulties were in language and maths. Science allowed them to be practical and to think. As a young teacher, I was innovating. We were seeing what we could do together. We had some wonderful times," she says.

"Unfortunately, I wasn't sparked off by science teaching at secondary school. But if I was a pupil now, there are teachers I have seen today I would love to have been taught by."

She says her lack of a traditional science background has not proved a disadvantage within the association - she "brought herself up to scratch" while teaching, with certificates in natural science and physical science from New College, Durham. Coming to science late was almost an advantage - "I could place (scientific) concepts in a context."

She spent seven years teaching in junior schools and acting as a science co-ordinator before becoming a deputy head in 1984. But after two years, she decided against pursuing a headship and instead became an advisory teacher for primary science with Durham education authority. In 1988, she took up her current post at the university.

"I was a deputy head quite young, about 30 or 32. I thought the natural thing to do in four years was go for a headship."

"But I looked at myself and thought 'do I want to be a head for 30 years?' I couldn't see a career structure beyond that. I began to look around and the job at the university came up. It allows me to mix the things I like doing, like classroom work and working with teachers as well as students."

She talks enthusiastically of taking her students to the association's conferences and seminars, so they can actually meet the researchers and practitioners whose work they are talking about and feel part of the profession. Involvement in the association is good continuing professional development, she feels.

She is an advocate of ASE's role as a support service to its members - more so, given the declining number of specialist science advisers in education authorities.

All the subject associations are suffering from falling membership, although the ASE - at 20-22,000 members - remains large enough, unlike several others, to employ permanent staff.

"ASE is concerned about the decline of subject advisers. The advisers are saying they are now taking on other roles too, and therefore less time is being spent on science. We see the knock-on effect on schools seeking support."

Her work for the ASE includes a publication - due out this month - on how literacy hour work can be applied in science lessons. There will be a follow-up next year to complement the national numeracy hour, and she is also looking into science resources for special needs children.

"A lot of people think we have arrived with primary science. But there is an awful lot more to learn about children and science, like how their ideas about science change, how they engage data, ethics and morals, how they apply their understanding of science in a range of contexts. It doesn't mean that primary science isn't doing a good job - just that perhaps there are places we haven't been yet."

Certainly, her chairmanship has put primary education higher on the ASE's agenda.

David Moore, its chief executive, said: "This is the first time I've worked with a primary person, and they have a different view of life. It's been very interesting to have that different perspective."

The Association for Science Education, tel: 01707 267411, fax: 01707 266532

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