Shining A Light

Shining A Light

This week School Science Tech, Paul Cook, writes for our blog about the future of the role and what opportunities it presents to Science Technicians. Paul is the current runner-up of the Gratnell’s Science Tech of the Year competition after emerging victorious in 2016!

Science Technicians have long been the “Unsung heroes” in science departments and schools across the country. It’s a phrase that was being used since I first started doing the job which is now a good few years ago and I’m sure there are plenty of people still doing an amazing job who heard it long before me!! I can hear the collective groan with the mere mention of it.

There are some pretty ominous clouds gathering too around school budgets and practical science in secondary schools. Sadly some people are already falling foul to job losses restructuring and redundancies. Things have definitely changed within science departments nationally too, with a growing number of Teach First , NQT and junior teaching staff making up the majority of teachers and “new to the job” graduate technicians being appointed in some cases as the sole technician.  Vast amounts of practical expertise and knowledge are disappearing out the door as people leave the job, retire or are made redundant.

Ultimately it is the students who suffer, with a lack of opportunity to experience practical science. Not only that but activities with a clear objective and good practical skills too.

This is where I think there is a silver lining to those clouds…an opportunity!  But it will take a massive radical change in culture within schools and the education system as a whole.

For many years science technicians have been helping to mentor and train junior, newly qualified teachers or dare I say teachers in general, in how to carry out practical demonstrations and lessons, using equipment with tips to get the desired results. What is important to emphasize is that this relates to the practical side of the job!

I’ve been lucky to work in schools with Principals and Heads of Departments who have encouraged me to go into lessons to inspire and engage students with demonstrations and practical activities when I have offered them. Leading me to become the Ark Academies Network technician advisor and presenter for CPD.  This is in no small part to me being fortunate to have attended the National STEM learning Centre in York (as it is called now) and the fantastic team of presenters, CPD sessions and resources there. So much amazing work has been done there and continues to be done to help inspire and develop science technicians, the STACS (Senior Technicians accredited Co-Leaders in Science) course being one which definitely helped open doors for me.

I am now regularly involved in presenting CPD sessions at conferences and technician network meetings, especially working with the ASE who run conferences across the country. I am recently a member of the ASE Technician committee who have been working for years to promote science technicians. As a committee we all run and present sessions for technicians and there are many other excellent technicians hosting and presenting CPD workshops too.

It’s a great movement to be involved with, technicians training technicians in practical good practice and the sharing of ideas, new knowledge and expertise. Technicians themselves have the opportunity to drive this forward and have been coming up with the solutions to develop the quality of expertise available. This is something that technicians have taken ownership of, as problem solvers in their day to day role.

There are plenty of projects and opportunities out there for raising your profile and many organisations are recognising this with awards which I have been fortunateenough to receive.

So back to the opportunity…I believe that there is now a genuine opening for science technicians to become Practical Advisors within secondary education and the massive culture change is for education to recognise this. Meaning that this role is given proper status, including salary recognition and to work alongside teachers to officially provide the much needed practical experience for students. Not to do the Teachers job which is definitely a different role altogether but to specialise in the practical element.

This Practical advisor role is something I can see a clear and necessary need for and science technicians are already developing themselves to fill that position. Organisations and Industry are talking about the need for practical skills and technicians are being repeatedly mentioned. Maybe the view is now changing and being brought into focus as recruitment and retention become an increasing issue.

So as a positive in all this, now is a time for Science Technicians to promote their skills and experience, a time to sell their value to Heads, Principles, Governors and Education in general.

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