It's good to talk

5th September 2003 at 01:00
Carolyn O'Grady eavesdrops on teachers who have set up their own networking group

Changes in the advisory services, league tables and local management have sounded the death knell to cross-authority meetings of subject teachers in many parts of the country. But in one authority at least, science teachers have succeeded in bucking the trend.

In Gloucestershire, the full range of secondary science teachers get together once a term to talk, try out new resources and listen to visiting experts discuss an aspect of science. Some 70 teachers regularly show up from more than 30 of the county's 42 secondary schools.

"We had requests for discussion groups from a lot of teachers", says Janet McKechnie, one of the three advanced skills teachers who started the meetings in 2001. "It's very important, especially in science, to keep up to date, and sharing ideas is probably more of an issue than in other subjects." Three more ASTs have joined the organisers as the meetings'

remit has expanded.

Initially, separate meetings for each of the three sciences were organised; but many topics, such as data-logging, cross the curriculums, and many teachers are in charge of more than one subject, so a joint gathering was preferred.

Meetings are held in different schools. "That way we attract a different group of people and also teachers come because they are curious about the school and want to see what the facilities are like."

It's a social event, with refreshments, networking and displays of resources from publishers and teachers, and sometimes talks and demonstrations by visiting experts. "But it's the networking element they go for," says Janet McKechnie.

The resources element has also proved very important. "We've had the major manufacturers come and show off and demonstrate their equipment and materials and have been given a load of free stuff as a result," she says.

Now as a sideline to the meetings, a Gloucestershire Science Centre has been set up, based at St Peter's High School in Gloucester, with its own catalogue. Teachers can borrow and try out equipment and materials if they wish. At St Peter's this summer, teachers were drinking coffee and munching cake, surrounded by a display of resources.

"This fills a gap", said John Smith, from Archway School in Stroud. "The networking part is the most important, apart from the minutiae of daily life we can share ideas and techniques. You also get to see other schools'

nice new laboratories."

For Steve Owen, head of physics at Pate's Grammar School in Cheltenham it was a chance to do a bit of "unofficial networking. Someone might say, for example, 'we've started a new physics course', when you've just started one too or plan to, and we can have a really useful chat.

"You find you're not the only ones having some problems. I've talked about A-levels tonight," said Sheila Hope of St Benedict's Catholic College in Cheltenham.

After 45 minutes' networking teachers separated into two groups to listen to speakers: one a representative from SAPS (Science and Plants in Schools), the other a representative from the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining who gave a whistle-stop tour of smart materials including Wow!-factor demonstrations. By 5.30 it was over. Teachers have homes to go to and marking to do, but they agreed with Rosemary Steer of the Royal Forest of Dean College: "Anything that gets people together is good; we were desperate for contact. Where I am, I'm the only science teacher."

How to make it work

You need several organisers to share the work. Arrange meetings once a term - more and people won't come, fewer and they will forget. Rotate the location. Keep it short.

Begin the meetings straight after school. Include a long refreshment session for networking and revitalisation.

Include lots of materials and equipment to look at in the refreshment room.

Run occasional talks and demonstrations, but remember that teachers really want to talk and share ideas.

For details, email Janet McKechnie: janet. Sue Hilton: sue.hilton@btopenworld.comJan Daines:

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