Annette Farrell, Programme Manager on our Education Policy team, explains the Royal Society of Chemistry’s response to the findings
Practical work is an essential aspect of the discipline of chemistry. At school level it supports understanding of chemistry as an empirical science and it provides opportunities for students to learn skills that are useful not only for progression into further study and careers in the sciences, but also more widely. The development of practical skills should be embedded in the curriculum and as such needs to be adequately supported and resourced, this includes the support provided by skilled technicians.
In a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on the type and amount of practical work that teachers are able to use in their lessons, technicians have a vital additional role of accessing and implementing the latest health and safety guidance to ensure that the practical work can happen in a COVID-secure fashion. A recent ASE report – which draws on results from a survey of technicians and teachers conducted in June 2020 – suggests that the additional expertise many technicians have developed during the pandemic, could be valuable in supporting school-wide health and safety procedures.
Whilst we urge the Government to investigate options to improve the level and provision of science technician support in schools, we at the RSC are committed to do what we can to help technicians.
To that end, Teach Chemistry – our schools support service with exclusive benefits aimed at cultivating healthy departments and engaging pupils with science – is freely available to UK schools and colleges. As well as access to a multitude of resources to support the provision of practical work, by registering with Teach Chemistry, members can sign up to receive their own copy of Education in Chemistry magazine, which offers training content and useful insights written by school technicians.
Technicians who are the lead contact at a Teach Chemistry school can also claim free RSC membership, which provides additional benefits such as career support, mentoring and networking. Membership also allows technicians to apply for professional registration as Registered Science Technician (RSciTech), for people working in technical roles, or Registered Scientist (RSci) for those in scientific and higher technical roles, to recognise the skills and knowledge gained through ongoing professional development.
The RSC believes in recognising excellence in all aspects of chemistry education. To improve how we do this, our education awards are changing to ensure that people working in supporting roles, as well as teachers, can be nominated for recognition. This redesign and rewording of the nomination criteria should lead to a broader range of dedicated and passionate people being celebrated – including technicians, teams and multidisciplinary collaborations.
A cross-team working group within the RSC is committed to developing our offering to technicians, including CPD opportunities. As part of our support of the Technician Commitment, we have number of schemes in place which could help school science technicians, including the Technician Skills Development Grant and the Travel and Training grant to support professional development, and further proposals for technician support are being considered and investigated.
At all stages, we are keen to hear from technicians themselves so our offering is informed by current experiences of our community, and suggestions received so far have helped shape how we are moving forward as an organisation.