Fall and rise of a physics teacher

9th June 2000 at 01:00
HERE lies the body of Reginald Perrin. He didn't know the names of the flowers and the trees, but he knew the rhubarb crumble sales figures for Schleswig-Holstein. Fans of David Nobbs's immortal comic creation will, I hope, forgive me if I have the quotation slightly wrong. I have lent my copy of The Fall and Rise . . . to a pal and thus could not check up. Reggie says the line when, for the nth time in his stultifying job, he is bombarded with a stream of statistics.

Some disturbing statistics came my way when I was out at Jordanhill helping to interview prospective postgraduate secondary students. My source, who can only be identified as "Chunky" for security reasons, let it be known that we could be heading for a crisis in physics teaching.

Fact: there were around 130 applications from wannabe biology teachers for around 30 places. Fact: there were fewer than 20 applications for physics. There are about 950 physics teachers in Scotland, average age 43 (hey, I'm a young one). About 10 per cent of physics teachers are over 55. It would seem reasonable to conclude that over the next five years we will need around 90 new physics teachers.

Put like that, things don't look too bad. If Jordanhill produces 18 physicists per year for the next five years, we've got our 90, even without te other education faculties chipping in. But hold on. In the past two years, only seven of Jordanhill's PGCSE students went on to work in Scotland - and Jordanhill, so I'm told, is bigger than all the others put together.

I could hit you with more figures but I suspect we would all begin to lose the will to live. My conclusion is that we have fewer than half the students training to be physicists that we should have. Not only that, we can't be as selective as the likes of our furry friends the biologists.

Things have not been helped by the insistence of the General Teaching Council that trainees must now have three years of university physics instead of the two thought sufficient when I trained.

I didn't get where I am today by quoting a stream of statistics, then walking off without offering a solution. Suggesting that practising physics teachers go out to universities and proclaim the joys of the job may provoke hollow laughter or cries of heresy but it needs to be done. Maybe we could grab some web space to help spread the word, too.

Inactivity could, as Elizabeth Perrin's brother Jimmy might say, lead to a bit of a cock-up on the recruitment front.

Gregor Steele recommmends the filled Yorkshire pudding available at the Jordanhill staff dining-room. Great!


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