Schools + science graduates = success

AN army of science graduates should be sent into Scotland’s schools to help improve the teaching of subjects crucial for Scotland’s economy, a leading academic has said.

AN army of science graduates should be sent into Scotland’s schools to help improve the teaching of subjects crucial for Scotland’s economy, a leading academic has said.

Professor Martin Hendry, from the school of physics and astronomy at the University of Glasgow, said that while many science teachers do an excellent job, the demands of the curriculum for excellence (CfE) meant some were struggling with the concepts of “open-ended inquiry” and “research-led investigations” now required of pupils.

Prof Hendry is embarking on a “prototype” teaching tour of secondary schools on some of Scotland’s islands – including Skye, Barra and Tiree – as part of National Science and Engineering Week, which starts tomorrow.

“It is likely that it is a few years since many teachers have been at the cutting edge at university and asking themselves deep fundamental questions such as ‘what is dark matter?’” he said.

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“That’s where we at the universities can come in, getting the pupils to go that bit deeper in their thinking.”

However, Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, said the solution did not lie with drafting in graduates.

“Teachers require professional development and training to familiarise them with everything in the curriculum for excellence,” he said.

“The solution doesn’t lie in an undefined cadre going into schools as either substitute or supplementary teachers.”

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Prof Hendry, who is on the design team for physics for the CfE, said: “In the open-ended inquiry element of physics, for example, the questions posed are ones which no-one knows the answers to. Science graduates can inspire pupils with this type of thinking. It can take the pupils, and some teachers, out of their comfort zones.

“The CfE has had lots of negative publicity, but university academics are very much in favour of its core principles. We want to embed a questioning style of thinking before pupils come to university.”

One of Scotland’s leading scientists, Professor John Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland, said: “I’m all for encouraging inquisitiveness in children and getting across the excitement in this way. What Martin is suggesting is potentially an important element and I support the general principle.

“But if you want the mass of children to learn about science there is no way of getting away from the manpower implications, which means smaller classes and better training for teachers.”

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A Scottish Government spokesman said: “There is broad agreement on the positive opportunities that a range of individuals can bring to learning in schools. However, there are also concerns about the role of external experts in schools and therefore the Scottish Government is taking forward a measured approach.”