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Thank God it's Friday

Monday We are sitting on a train when the announcer apologises for the hour's delay: they cannot start the engine. A points failure means we lose more time, but it is only just after 9pm when we crawl into Paddington. We have spent the day observing chemistry lessons in two large community colleges. The teachers are finalists for the Salters' Prize. Both lessons were superb, one taking understanding forward for everyone, the other challenging a low ability group of Year 10s. I feel so lucky to be watching experts at work.

Tuesday The trains seem better today and I'm on time. We talk to a lively teacher whose young son asked her if she was bringing home the gold medal that night. Chemistry is up there with the Olympics.

Wednesday I resort to the car and at Darlington meet the colleagues who have travelled from London by train. We enjoy lunch with the candidate, her head and her nominator, a sixth-former. The candidate has almost lost her voice but once againwe watch a first-class lesson about the environment and organic analysis.

Thursday Floods make travel difficult as we visit two contrasting schools. In the first, a bottom set in Year 11 tackling electrolysis is off to the hall for a role-play exercise. Most of the class are ions. A "cathode" hands out electrons (small wooden balls) to the "cations" who are deposited while the "anions" hand their electrons back to an "anode". A car journey takes us to a sixth form of very able students. They are treated to an erudite explanation of entropy and free energy with questions that force them to work it out for themselves.

Friday We've visited 12 schools - independent, comprehensive and sixth-form colleges - and seen teachers who work under very different conditions. Choosing six for the final interview will be difficult.

Dorothy Atkinson is education consultant to the Salters' Company, which awards a pound;10,000 prize each year for chemistry teaching

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