Letters extra: Science year

9th February 2001 at 00:00

Science funding

I suggested to my wife and daughter, both science teachers, that they should take the time to read the profile of Nigel Paine, the new director of the science year, and his plans for spending the pound;20 million to make science cool, as it's a subject often discussed in our household ( TES , January 19).

More than a week has gone by and they have only just had time to glance at the article let alone send comments to The TES. They are, of course, teachers with no time to spare! My daughter is a newly qualified science teacher at a state secondary school. My wife teaches science in an independent primary.

The following comments on how the pound;20m science fund could be best used is based mainly on the feedback I 've been getting from my daughter on the problems faced by science at key stage 3 and beyond. She often arrives home after a tough day at school and says: "I could more easily handle the problems each day and improve my science teaching if only I knew I would have some free time to unwind in the evening, but now it's back down to more work in preparation for tomorrow." That's after leaving home at 7am and returning after 6pm or later.

When many of her friends are relaxing after a day at work, she is often preparing lessons, but sometimes loaded down with what is nothing more than secretarial work, which has nothing to do with science. She often says: "I did not go into science to do secretarial work having done lots in the past." My daughter teaches in a school where the staff and management are very supportive but they themselves are under lots of pressure.

It must be very difficult for a new teacher in a school where there is little support. I am sure teachers could make their subject "cool" if there was more support to do these many tasks. Teachers could then concentrate on teaching science for which they have been trained at expense to the taxpayer; the money has not been spent to train secretaries. Maybe the pound;20m could be put towards providing more support.

We have provided our daughter with IT facilities at home. I'm sure many other families do the same. Her friends in business have laptop PCs provided by their companies. I know teachers have special deals on computer purchase but this year it is restricted to maths teachers. It's not just PCs that are needed. Output from the PC is important. Teachers need access to more high quality scanners, printers and copiers and their expensive consumables. I realise that pound;20m would not go far in this area.

The science department endeavours to make the subject interesting but is restricted by the need to stick to the syllabus and the inevitable need for good exams results. Let's face it, some pupils are unlikely to score highly in exams no matter how much they concentrate on this aim (my opinion not my daughter's), so let teachers have the freedom to judge this and so plan their lessons to develop interest in the subject.

I am concerned by the idea that a network of mentors, professors and industry experts will tutor teachers and pupils. Is this jobs for the boys? When are teachers going to find time to be tutored by these experts? Will the experts just come in to school, present one well-prepared lecture then leave. That's easy, I've done that myself. They should try spending longer in school and teaching a full science timetable. See if they can then make it cool while at the same time being a social worker, secretary, mentor and deal with mixed ability classes.

Experience by both my wife and daughter has shown that visits they have organised to hands-on science discovery centres and field centres has helped to foster long-term interest in science. Help is always needed to cover transport costs, entrance charges, sometimes residential costs, and additional support staff. More flexible timetables are required to allow the visits to take place. Many centres cater mainly for key stage 1 and 2, probably because of their flexible school timetables. Maybe they should be targeting the key stage 3 if there was the demand. The fund could be used to look into this.

There is no doubt that many NQTs will reconsider their career choice after completion of the demanding first year. The science fund could be used to encourage them to stay and teach. It could also possibly pay for additional training in ways of making science cool and cover the cost of teaching cover while they are absent from the classroom.
The task of making science cool will be exciting and very worthwhile. I will follow progress through the pages of TES .

Anthony Crosby
29 Trevor Road
West Bridgford

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