How to keep science staff happy

19th January 2007 at 00:00
They prefer smaller classes and more lab assistants to better pay, say researchers

schools should give science teachers more staff or smaller class sizes rather than more pay, according to researchers.

A report commissioned by the Royal Society found that schools are able to keep physics and chemistry teachers by employing more assistants to improve pupil-teacher ratios, especially at key stage 4.

Mark Windale, senior lecturer at the Centre for Science Education and one of the report's authors, said targeting those years also reduced discipline problems and improved exam results.

Other schools used team-teaching, or filled their labs with teaching assistants, to reduce teachers' work loads and make them feel less isolated.

At one school the science teachers would set aside an evening for marking and all sit down together in the staffroom, break the back of the work, then go and for a curry.

At another, the head of science nominated one evening each week when teachers were not allowed to take any work home: "He would stand by the door and not let anybody walk out with a briefcase," Mr Windale said.

"There's more to life."

A parliamentary select committee inquiry in 2004 found that 60 per cent of science teachers had decided to drop out within their first five years.

Other studies showed that while poor pay was one reason for their departure, more important were frustrations about work load, and a lack of professional autonomy or ability to be creative in their work.

The report for the Royal Society analysed six schools that had successfully overcome their retention problems with initiatives like improving staffing levels in their science departments, and providing more collegial environments.

Mr Windale said evidence was mixed on whether pay was a factor in science teachers leaving the profession. Half the schools had also offered retention payments to science staff, but more to stop teachers moving to other local schools than from leaving the profession.

Hinde House 3-16 school in Sheffield had major difficulties retaining science teachers after coming out of special measures. But Simon Winslow, the deputy head, said it had become better at keeping science and maths teachers after it gave them laptops and interactive whiteboards before other staff.

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