Education: Your views

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I was interested to read the article "Teach science as if it were history" (Education, 24 September), and two of the letters in EDUCATION (Your Views, 1 October), as I too am a relatively new mature entrant to the science teaching profession.

The propaganda is that there is a national shortage of qualified science teachers, especially those with industrial experience. As a result of this, substantial bursaries are offered to those opting to retrain as science teachers.

In 1994, when I was made redundant from my post as a Senior Scientist with the Health Service, I took the opportunity to retrain as a science teacher (something I had been considering for a good 10 years beforehand).

I obtained the PGCE in Secondary School Chemistry with Science. As I was training to teach a shortage subject, I received a bursary of, if I recall correctly, pounds 1,200.

I then applied for approximately 50 posts in the state sector but I received only three interviews - and one of these was at a College of Technology.

Colleagues and acquaintances suggested three possible reasons for this paucity of interviews:

Schools cannot afford to pay for industrial experience .

Teachers (including heads of science) might feel threatened by my qualifications and industrial experience.

The area in which I live contains a high proportion of military personnel, many of whom have spouses who are trained teachers, and move into the area with them.

I was fortunate to obtain a temporary contract at an independent preparatory school. This contract came to an end in August and, in anticipation of this, I have been applying for teaching posts since last September.

Again, I must have applied for about 60 posts, mainly to state secondary schools. Again, I have received no interviews from state schools. This appears to be because state schools discriminate against teachers from the independent sector.

The question I would like to ask is: is there, or is there not, a shortage of qualified science teachers? If there is, then why is there no mechanism in place for schools to apply to me rather than me to them?

If there isn't, then why do grants and bursaries continue to be paid to mature entrants (thus giving them false hopes), when such monies could be used to enhance existing teachers' salaries?

NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED

In the Fifties, I was taught science from an historical viewpoint, by which I mean we learnt the basic science of, for example, atomic theory, by tracing the steps taken by such scientific pioneers as Dalton, and rehearsing the various arguments deployed for and against the theories at an appropriate level.

This was an excellent teaching method when there was a significantly smaller body of knowledge to be imparted than at the present time. It also gave subconscious instruction in scientific method.

However, it is frequently forgotten that a science degree must needs take its recipient to the edge of knowledge in his subject and that edge is receding almost by the day in many scientific fields.

At least a proportion of this new knowledge must be taught to undergraduates in their degree courses, because otherwise they do not reach the necessary standard. Something had to be displaced from the overall curriculum somewhere, and I suspect that the more expansive and enjoyable teaching climate of the Fifties that my contemporaries and I enjoyed was the first to suffer.

Although members of the general public do not need the same depth of knowledge as those making science a career, I am not sure that the proposal to use history teachers to teach a "more human, historical approach to scientists and how they work" is the answer.

The science taught under this method is liable to be superficial, which, in my view, will seriously degrade the validity of the proposal and necessitate serious remedial work on those wishing to pursue a degree, and a possible career, in science.

J RUSSELL BSc PhD

Fleet

Hants

Mrs Noble mourns the passing of "fun in chemistry", and thinks that the geology component in Double Award Science is "guaranteed to turn young people off science" (Your Views, 1 October).

If she is unable to teach children about volcanoes, earthquakes, crystals and dinosaurs in a stimulating way, then she may have spent too long in her beloved chemistry lab! My department is organising INSET courses on the geological topics in Science GCSE: perhaps Mrs Noble should get in touch with us.

ANDY SWAN

School of Geological Sciences

Kingston University

I was interested to read the generally positive article ("Will the literacy hour be fun or just a straitjacket?", EDUCATION, 1 October), having taught for the last two years in a primary school which piloted the project in spring 1997.

I believe it was a mistake to implement this radical, nationwide change without first properly evaluating the results of the pilot scheme. While it has virtues - teaching children grammar in the context of a shared book, for example - it may prove to be unsuitable for many children. I also found it to be unpopular with many classes, despite the best efforts of their teachers.

Part of the problem lies in its rigidity. It expects all children of a particular age to be ready to learn the same skills, rather than allowing teachers to follow the essential precept of "starting from where the children are at".

It is also very optimistic to expect many infant children to perform most tasks of any educational value in completely autonomous groups.

I therefore imagine that there are a lot of schools who would like to know how Ruth Miskin has the resources to employ "four trained classroom assistants in literacy hours with the younger children".

PAUL MILLS

London E3

In response to the article "Fighting for Tom", by Kate Cargreaves, (EDUCATION, 24 September) I felt I must write in support of the experience of the writer.

I, too, have an adopted child and although she is not dyslexic, we have suffered considerably through the lack of understanding from those who were educating her. Adolescence moved in with us overnight and without warning. It took away our daughter's sense of identity; her self esteem hit a record low.

Her ability to concentrate, to act upon simple instructions or to make decisions was limited, and often she became frozen. For four years she was like a displaced person, not knowing who she was or where she belonged.

I naively thought that retaining a relationship with the school would keep the lines of communication open, to help my daughter find her identity. Unfortunately I could not have been more wrong.

I was told I was over protective and that being adopted was her, and my, excuse for her laziness and rudeness. The saddest part of all was that no one was prepared to listen, either to her or to me. I did not expect teachers to have all the answers, but it would have been more constructive to listen than to treat me as a neurotic trouble maker.

It was a relief when June came and our daughter finished school forever. Against all the odds, my daughter is now attending a full time college course and trying hard to catch up on four years of missed education.

I feel for teachers and the pressure they are under. It can't be an easy task for them. But, from my experience, they were not prepared to even look for a solution to help my daughter, which would have made teaching in her class considerably easier in the long run.

GB SLEETH

Nottingham

Please send your letters to Wendy Berliner, Editor, EDUCATION, 'The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL. Include a day time telephone number. Fax letters to EDUCATION on 0171-293 2451

e-mail:educ@independent.co.uk

Letters may be edited for length and clarity

CORRECTION

A Loughborough University study, referred to in the article 'Teachers are the best job advert' (EDUCATION, October 1) found more than 90 per cent (not nine per cent ) of those interviewed gave experience of working with children and expectations that teaching would bring high job satisfaction as a reason for coming into the profession

The survey involved 453 PGCE students (not 28). A quote in the article was wrongly attributed to Professor Ted Wragg of Exeter University

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