Balancing the equation: Trainee science teachers are in demand

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The Independent Online

In these fragile economic times, with job security a rare commodity, it's no surprise that inquiries from people thinking about teaching as a career are on the up. In some branches of the profession that means increasing competition for jobs. But there are plenty of areas where demand for new recruits appears insatiable; and prominent among those are the subject specialisms of science and technology. Both are on the Government's list of "priority" subjects, with financial inducements to attract new blood. If you train to teach in either subject, you'll qualify for a tax-free bursary of £9,000 to support you during your training year, and, a little further down the line, there are "golden hellos", payable when you enter your second full year of teaching. For science teachers, this amounts to £5,000, and for their technology counterparts (in school parlance, the subject is known as "design and technology") the figure is £2,500. However, these lump sums are taxed.

Entrants to the teaching profession these days are taken from a wide pool of ages and backgrounds. You don't need to come straight from university, and life experience in the world of work or in bringing up a family is viewed as an asset. But, if you're going to be a subject specialist in a secondary school, you must have a relevant degree. For science, as well as being comfortable with the subject in its broadest sense, you'll need to have a strength in biology, chemistry or physics. If you have a physics degree, you'll be greeted with open arms, since many schools struggle to put a single physics graduate in front of classes. For design and technology (D&T), you will be expected to specialise in two of the four main areas: electronics and communications, food, materials (wood, metal, plastics) and textiles.

But if your degree doesn't exactly match these criteria, or if your knowledge has become rusty, fear not. Once you have applied for, and been accepted on, a training course, you can go on a subject knowledge enhancement course – usually a week or two long – where you can brush up on any weak areas. And whatever your subject, somewhere along the line you'll need to prove your competence at numeracy, literacy, and information and communication technologies (ICT) by taking and passing online tests in these three areas.

Once you're sure you want to become a teacher, you have to decide how you want to train. And here there are two broad routes. The first, traditional, pathway is the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) route. Here you're based at a teacher-training department of a university, from where you'll be sent out on two blocks of teaching practice, lasting at least 18 weeks in total, at different schools. Back at university, you'll have lectures and seminars covering some of the generic areas of teaching theory, classroom management and child protection. The other option is to be based at a school, effectively being part of the teaching staff from the outset, and going off site for a day or so a week for the theory lectures.

But within that second option, there are two possible formats. In the first, you're classed as an employee of the school, following what's called the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP). In the second, you're considered a student teacher, following School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (Scitt). The main difference here is financial. A GTP teacher does not qualify for the £9,000 training bursary, as they're paid about half a teacher's salary, directly by the school. If you follow the Scitt route, you get the bursary like other PGCE students.

Science teacher Kit Mather, 31, is coming to the end of her GTP year at Fullbrook School, a large mixed comprehensive near Woking in Surrey. She graduated in biology and geography at Salford University in 1999, worked in photography for four years and then moved, with her husband's job, to Japan, before returning to start a family.

"I chose the GTP route because it's hands-on, you get more feel for the school, and the children get to know you from day one. And also because you get paid," she says. She'll be starting her first full-time job as a qualified teacher at Woking high school in September.

"It's been good for me. I feel like I'm using my degree now. I have a purpose and a career."

'My aim is to do some mentoring of other teachers'

Neuroscience graduate Nicky Marshall, 29, is coming to the end of her first year as a newly qualified science teacher at Patcham high school in east Sussex, having completed a PGCE at Sussex University last summer.

"During my second teaching practice placement, I applied for and got a job at this school, and started almost immediately after my placement finished because they needed maternity cover.

"It's hard work. I think the biggest difference is not having as much time to reflect and analyse on your teaching as you did when you were training. Biology is my strongest science subject. But at key stage 3 (the first three years of secondary school) science is all mixed up, so I teach everything. In my Year 11 (GCSE) class, though, I teach only biology.

"I really enjoy the job. One of the reasons I wanted to teach science was because we need to get away from the idea that a student's first answer has to be the right one. It's much more beneficial that they understand that science is more about investigation than having the right answer all the time.

"Next year, I'm staying at this school and working on my teaching skills. A longer-term aim is to do some mentoring of other teachers and maybe go down the advanced-skills teacher route."

'I have some hilarious characters in my classes'

Terry Wilks, 25, a graduate in computer-aided product design, is in his second full year of teaching, and already head of the Design and Technology (D&T) department at Fullbrook School in Surrey. He completed a PGCE at Roehampton University in 2007.

"My girlfriend's parents, both teachers, suggested I give teaching a go. Her dad arranged for me to spend a day at the school where he worked. I went into the Design & Technology block and they gave me half a lesson to teach, and I absolutely loved it.

"I was due to come to Fullbrook for my second placement, but saw they were advertising a job, so I applied for it mainly to get some interview experience under my belt.

"But they offered it to me. So I started here, first as a trainee, and then, the following September as a qualified teacher.

"D&T was the only subject I really enjoyed at school. I feel that it can open up a lot of minds that don't open in other areas of the school, and it allows students to have a break from other academic subjects.

"I have some hilarious characters in my classes and they're great as they show me the utmost respect. That's what motivates me to get up every morning."

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