Cult of excellence

30th December 1994 at 00:00
Winners of The TESScience Teacher of the Year Award will be announced next week. Maureen McTaggart reports on the judging process and the regional finalists. Linda Elliott, science teacher at Hitchin Girls School in Hertfordshire, has an attitude problem the judges of The TES Science Teacher of the Year Award want to encourage. She believes "There is nothing wrong with trying to be excellent." It is also an attitude she is eager for her pupils to adopt, and one that has helped them win a regional prize in the competition that is jointly run by The TES and the Association for Science Education.

The Science Teacher of the Year Award was launched last January with sponsorship from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and the pharmaceutical company, Pfizer Ltd. It is split into regional and national categories with cash prizes for both the winning teachers and their schools.

Its aim is to encourage the teachers who make science enjoyable and interesting for pupils and has come at a time when the whole teaching profession could do with a much needed boost of self-esteem.

"We wanted to recognise good professional work and reward both the individual and the school," says a spokeswoman for ABPI, which is sponsoring the secondary award (Pfizer Ltd is sponsoring the primary award). "It is teachers who influence a pupil's choice of which subject to study on leaving school. They work under tremendous pressure but still find time to motivate their pupils and somehow muster up an infectious passion for the subject which they manage to pass on to the youngsters."

When he launched the award, John Adams, academic liaison co-ordinator at Pfizer Ltd, said they were not looking for the "super-teachers or the paragon of virtue who has no time for family life", but were looking to celebrate good practice that ordinary teachers can aspire to.

However, they hadn't bargained for the enthusiasm of teachers and pupils as their journey took them into schools where excellent work was the norm. Primary pupils in particular found science fascinating - like the six-year-olds at Hawes Down Infant School, West Wickham, who successfully constructed an electrical circuit (complete with breakers) and were using it to light up a collage of animals they had built. Their teacher, Barbara Pollard, refused to take all the credit for what the pupils had achieved.

She said that although the children are very young, they are capable of taking in a lot of information. Moreover, she allowed them to progress as much as they wanted to, and left them to do their own investigations so she could gauge how much of the concept of science they had grasped.

The judges were also able to pick up some tips while talking to the youngsters and will now be very wary of any electrician who might try to bamboozle them with techno-speak.

Marilyn Powell who teaches at Foxdenton (special) School in Oldham, said teachers are a school's best resource and as such they must capitalise on their pupils' enthusiasm. She found her class of 11-year-olds no less keen on science than their able-bodied colleagues. Several of them regularly give up their lunchbreaks to attend a Young Investigators science club she runs at the school.

This year's 11 regional winners received Pounds 100 each and the chance to compete for the national title worth Pounds 1000 to be shared between teacher and school. Choosing the winners proved a tough task for the panel of judges, which included representatives from ABPI, The TES, Pfizer and television presenters Carmen Pryce and Bob Holness.

Professor Jeff Thompson CBE, chairman of the secondary judging panel, praised the teachers' hard work and dedication: "We were delighted with the success of the award, which attracted a tremendously high standard of entries. We were especially looking for a high level of enthusiasm and the ability to transfer that enthusiasm to young people - and we found it! The difficulty was in choosing between them."

John Adams said they asked each candidate to illustrate how they would bring science to life in the classroom and get the children thinking scientifically: "We were looking for that little spark and it was very difficult to isolate one spark that was slightly brighter than the others. Science permeated so many of the classrooms we visited."

The regional winners are:

Secondary - Jess Cooke, Lenzie Academy, Glasgow; Dr Joseph Rea, Assumption Grammar School, Co. Down; Richard Edwards, St George School, Bristol; Jean Middleton, Astor School, Dover; Ms Caroline Dawes, Withernsea High School, Withernsea, nr Hull; Linda Elliott, Hitchin Girls School, Hitchin, Hertfordshire.

Primary - Barbara Pollard, Hawes Down Infant School, West Wickham; Barbara Ridout, Sandown C P School, Deal, Kent; Chris Sargeant, Collaton St Mark CE Primary School, Paignton; Vincent Bovill, Haverlock Primary School, Sunderland; and Marilyn Powell, Foxdenton (special) School, Oldham.

The 1994 national winners will be announced next Friday at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Science Education at Lancaster University.

o Nominations for The TES Science Teacher of the Year can be put forward by a wide range of people, including pupils, colleagues, parents and schools. Details and nomination forms for next year's competition are available from the ASE, College Lane, Hatfield, Herts AL10 9AA. Enclose an A4 SAE

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