Young docs called in to cure sick science

A pharmaceutical company is funding a ground-breaking project which will see researchers encouraging pupils in physics and chemistry. Jon Slater reports

SCIENCE researchers are to teach in schools under a pound;1 million private sponsorship deal announced by Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday.

Researchers who have recently completed doctorates at Imperial College, London, will spend half their time in 15 new science specialist schools in a ground-breaking project.

The scheme is designed to halt the decline in the popularity of science. If successful, it could form a blueprint for future education partnerships with industry.

The schools, in London and the South-east, will each receive help from two "post-docs" who are expected to focus on "fun" and extra-curricular activities as well as helping with experimental work in the classroom. In return, they will meet part of the pound;15,000 cost of employing the researchers and support them while they train as teachers. Details are being discussed by the Teacher Training Agency.

INSPIRE (innovative scheme for post-docs in research and education) is funded by GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical giant which is worried that insufficient pupils opt for science post-16.

In the past decade, the proportion of A-level pupils taking science subjects in maintained schools has fallen from around a third to less than 10 per cent.

Tony Blair said: "The children of today will be our teachers, our scientists and our doctors of tomorrow. By investing in the education of children now we are investing in our society."

Each school will receive pound;40,000 in sponsorship and pupils will be able to visit the company's research and development centre to gain work experience.

The rest of the pound;1m will be used to pay for a co-ordinator and other administration costs.

The Ellen Wilkinson school for girls, in Ealing, west London, hopes to become one of the first to benefit from the scheme. It will find out early next month if its bid for specialist status has been approved.

GlaxoSmithKline has agreed to put up pound;40,000 of the pound;50,000 sponsorship schools must raise to qualify for specialist status.

Sue Parrott, headteacher, said: "We are enormously excited. It will raise the profile of science teaching, and the post-docs will act as exciting role models for pupils. We hope that the links with such a prestigious university will raise expectations - particularly among those who would be the first in the family to go to university."

In return, GlaxoSmithKline will be given at least two seats on participating schools' governing bodies. The company hopes that its involvement will encourage children at these schools to opt for physics or chemistry A-levels.

The INSPIRE project will only be open to schools in the London area where GlaxoSmithKline has its research base.

Sir Cyril Taylor, head of the Technology Colleges' Trust, said: "I hope that over the next five years we will have 200 science specialist schools across the country."

For further information on INSPIREemail m.coupland@ic.ac.uk

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