National science centre doing little to attract Scottish teachers

7th August 2009 at 01:00
Costing pound;11 million, only 49 Scots have darkened its door

It cost millions and was meant to provide inspirational and innovative professional development for science teachers, technicians, lecturers and teaching assistants from all over the UK.

But last year, although thousands of English teachers attended courses at the National Science Learning Centre in York, only 49 Scots darkened its door - 32 secondary and eight primary teachers and nine technicians.

Science education experts say Scottish teachers are being left out because the centre's courses chime more with the English curriculum and little effort is being made to attract Scots through its doors. They also point out that problems in securing supply cover can make it difficult for teachers to get out of school and Scottish local authorities tend to line up CPD closer to home.

The Pounds 11 million purpose-built National Science Learning Centre was set up five years ago as a UK-wide resource, funded by the Wellcome Trust. Situated at the University of York, it features the highest-specification teaching laboratories, a resource centre, multiple teaching rooms and a 300-seat auditorium.

Its figures show that last year, 2,218 attendees came from England, 49 from Scotland, 33 from Wales, 115 from Ireland and 215 from "other" countries.

The National Science Learning Centre is a "wonderful" facility, says Marjorie Smith, who has taught biology for 30 years. It is the kind of place, she says, to which teachers dream of being able to go to develop their skills. But she has never heard of a colleague attending a course there.

"Initially, someone said to me that teachers wouldn't go because the centre was in York, but I did some research and found out that York is the most visited place in England by Scottish people. They would get the numbers if they made what was on offer more relevant," said Ms Smith, who teaches at Dollar Academy.

Susan Rodrigues, who conducts research at Dundee University into the teaching and learning of science, felt distance was an issue. "There are bursaries available to help cover the cost of travel, but getting supply cover for teachers in Scotland in science is difficult," she said.

Miranda Stephenson, programme director at the National Science Learning Centre, acknowledged that the number of Scottish teachers attending NSLC courses in York "could be higher".

She said: "Obviously, travelling difficulties play a large role in attendance figures, and we are putting measures in place in order to widen the reach of CPD to our Scottish colleagues," adding that the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre is to receive a grant to run 500 training days over the next year in connection with the National Science Learning Centre.

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