Tempt science teachers with prestige not pounds

30th June 2000 at 01:00
THIS year I have received an unusually high number of telephone calls and faxes from schools asking for details of postgraduate certificate in education science students without jobs. Although physics and chemistry posts are often mentioned, biology posts are becoming more difficult to fill, too.

I have carried out an informal survey of colleagues across the country who run PGCE science courses and they report the same pattern. It seems some schools will start next year with fewer science teachers than they really need.

Recruitment for the PGCE science courses has not been improved by the pound;6,000 training bursary. Enquiries have not resulted in firm applications. Some students who have accepted a place are withdrawing after taking up jobs or other advanced courses. This is quite normal since some see the PGCE as a back-stop in their career aspirations but it is clear that government policies have done little to help.

We do know many of the reasons why students are not coming forward. Other careers are seen as: more intellectual; a more valid way of using subject knowledge; having better training and professional development opportunities; with better salary prospects.

The handling of the threshold applications has done little to enhancethe image of teaching. Trainee applicants report that their teachers tried to put them off the profession, a sign of low morale that has been exacerbated by Government whinging about teachers. Many of my students who started teaching in the maintained sector have now moved into the independent sector, where they believe teachers are held in greater respect, and in which they can maintain professional freedom from the pressures of the national curriculum and tests.

The admin pressures on teachers who mentor science students have increased tremendously. University colleagues also report feelings of disempowerment as they strive to implement a highly bureaucratic set of regulations professionally and creatively.

The university tutors responding to the survey are upbeat about the standard of student teachers they and their teacher partners are developing through the PGCE courses. However, the demand for excessive administrative accountability is sapping enthusiasm all round.

Public recognition of existing success by ministers would go a long way to meeting recruitment demands than the present system of indiscriminate and loud sniping at occasional deficiencies.

Dr John Oversby

School of education

University of Reading

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