Your checklist to starting in school

27th October 2000 at 01:00
So you've finished your training. What's next? Stephen Chapman offers some pointers for new secondary school science teachers

You've made it. The formal stage of practising and theorising is finally over - you're set to embark on your vocation for real in front of classes of delightful teenagers, gratefully hanging on your every word. Or not.

Whatever, this is a momentous occasion in your working life, with years of pleassure and stress, the classwork and the paperwork to look forward to. So what do you do now?

Well, the very first thing you should do when your training has finished is have a rest. Don't have anything to do with teaching for a month. You will need all your energy for the new school year.

Buy yourself a pair of shoes comfortable enough to stand up all day in. I suggest something with a cushioned sole - this will be money well spent.

Join the Association for Science Education immediately, if you have not already done so. You get excellent support and journals, and you can add the cost to your tax allowance.

Then, join a union, not just so you can go to conferences at Easter, but for some professional support and insurance should anything go wrong. For instance, if you have an accident, problems over pay, or are accused of misconduct. Obviously, you hope these things will never happen, but it pays to be prepared. And you can add this cost to your tax allowance, too.

Then there's the little matter of teaching science. Find out from your school what your timetable will be - how many Year 7 classes will there be? How many exam classes are there? And so on. We list below some of the specific questions you should address.

Key stages 3 and 4 Find out what the rota of topics is, whether you will be teaching discrete chemistry, biology and physics units and, most importantly, which topic you will be teaching first. There is usually an introductory unit for Year 7 on using Bunsen burners and so on, which all groups do first.

Find out if and how you will share any groups with other teachers - for example, do both teachers teach the same topic, or does each have independent topics?

Ask for class lists so you can prepare your mark book. Try to locate any information about the prior attainment of any classes you are to teach.

Ask your department head for schemes of work and syllabuses, if you don't have these already. Find out when there are public exams, as some Year 11 students may have a module in November.

The QCA scheme of work is available free at, and this might give you ideas for lessons. Look too at the key stage 2 ones, to see just how much children will have completed at primary school.

How are lessons organised? How is equipment booked and when? What days are there technicians in? In some ways, the technicians are the most important people in the department. Find out what equipment is available and what is usually used. Ensure you have a copy of the textbooks that pupils will be using.

Key stage 5

Ask for a copy of the syllabus. Everyone will be starting from scratch this year, so you are all in the sam boat. Find out which topics you will be teaching, with whom you will be sharing the group and any information about your students. Start making your own notes on the topics you will be teaching for use in class. Have a look at the sample papers the awarding bodies have prepared.


Some people plan lessons months in advance. If you're one of these, be warned that your department head may say you'll be doing lessons in a different order. Look at the schemes to get an idea of what the topic involves in terms of learning objectives and outcomes, then prepare a plan for each lesson. You may like to do this once a week, along with booking equipment.

Remember, you will be observed a great deal as an NQT and this is meant to be a formative assessment process to build on your strengths and improve on your weaknesses.

Lesson plans vary from person to person. Some people like to script their lessons, others just write down key words. Obviously, you will need to think about: prior attainment, learning objectives, outcomes assessment, questioning and safety.

You may want to make use of overhead projections, so get a supply of transparencies in early.


Find out the school's marking policy, and what grades are given for a piece of work - are levels given at key stage 3? How are they decided?

Find out about the discipline policy, especially on uniform. How are detentions administered? Do you have to set and supervise them yourself?

Will you have a form? LEAs are encouraged to let NQTs off this, but not all do. This takes a lot of time.

What support scheme does the schoolLEA offer NQTs ? When will you be observed, and by whom?

for biologists

The BIOTUTOR-L discussion list is an email discussion group for biology teachers, and has nearly 300 members so far. To register, contact Peter Robinson at:

for chemists

Perhaps the best known discussion list is the Chemists' Net, which is found at www.btinternet.comchemie. A popular email discussion list is also run at

for physicists

PTNC is a list run by the Institute of Physics. To get on the list, you must address an email to Don't fill the subject line and write subscribe PTNC in the email message itself, followed by your email address. Your subscription will also be confirmed by email.

Dr Stephen Chapman is manager in the Education Department, Institute of Physics, London


Teaching Secondary Physics, Ed. David Sang, ASEJohn Murray

Teaching Secondary Biology, Ed. Michael Reiss, ASEJohn Murray

Teaching Secondary Chemistry, Ed. Bob McDuell, ASEJohn Murray

Science On Line, Ed. Richard Hammond, Becta (available from

The Craft of the Classroom, Michael Marland, Heinemann

Web resources

The NGFL has a contributory database of ideas that is teacher led, have a

look there and on the virtual teachers' centre at

Teacher email networks

These can provide invaluable advice and help from real teachers.

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