A great teacher will have the ability to nurture a young person's passion for science and chemistry. But, for those at the very beginning of their teaching career, the pandemic has had a profound impact on their learning and development. The lockdown restrictions, social distancing and other measures that were in place to slow the spread of the virus meant that teacher training between 2019 and 2021 was significantly disrupted – school placements in particular.
No trainee or new teacher expects to spend months away from the classroom at such a critical time in their professional development. But that is what many of the 2019/20 and 2020/21 cohorts have experienced. The lack of opportunities to hone their skills, like teaching practical science lessons and managing student behaviour, has the potential to impact the chemical science pipeline for many years to come – if we don't take action now.
If teachers lack confidence in leading practical work, they may be less likely to do it. This could be even more prevalent for schools with a higher proportion of disadvantaged students as they are less likely to have specialist teachers. There is also a risk that if teachers have low self-efficacy they are more likely to leave. Both of these scenarios could mean that the development of school students’ practical skills is reduced.
Practical work is an essential part of providing an inspirational education in chemistry and across the sciences, and it is worrying that this group have missed vital opportunities to develop these skills.
With our new report The future of practical science lessons we are sounding the alarm on the potential long-term impact of the lack of learning and development opportunities for trainee and first year teachers, and the impact on school students.
As the largest non-governmental supporter of chemistry education, we have three main concerns:
- the lack of practical teaching and experience could mean fewer school students gain the necessary skills and inspiration to pursue a career in the chemical sciences, either through university or following a more technical route
- this will have a knock-on effect on chemistry's contribution to the economy, and to solving future problems, as evidenced by our report Chemistry's contribution: workforce trends and economic impact
- without additional support, early career teachers will find the transition to teaching much more challenging than previous cohorts. This could potentially lead to an increase in teachers leaving the profession
Our action plan
The pandemic has resulted in trainee teachers having fewer opportunities to develop their skills in teaching science practicals. We believe that funding focused on practical skills development, either directly given to schools or to training providers, is essential to bridge this skills gap.
This is why we’re calling on the UK governments to provide £7.5 million for continuous professional development (CPD) with a focus on practical work for teachers of the sciences who trained during the pandemic.
We are also committing our own resources to develop a tailored package of support for early career teachers of science and trainees to improve their skills and confidence, available via our website including:
These will be important additions to our extensive bank of resources that are already available on our education website.
Trainee and first year teachers have had an incredibly challenging start to their teaching career. Like the cohorts that have gone before, and the ones to come, they have the potential to inspire and nurture inquisitive young minds. And while many of our survey respondents said that the pandemic has increased their technology skills and resilience – key skills for the future – there's little doubt that significantly reduced time in the classroom has reduced their experience of teaching practical lessons.
We hope that the UK governments will join us in providing extra support for trainee and first year teachers – the people we rely on to educate our future scientists.