Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'I Can't Work under These (Laboratory) Conditions'

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'I Can't Work under These (Laboratory) Conditions'

Article excerpt

Study warns mess and broken equipment are leading science teachers to quit - and finds evidence of cheating

Dirty school laboratories, broken equipment and large classes are driving science teachers away from the profession, according to research findings seen by TES.

A study by Birendra Singh from the UCL Institute of Education has found that turnover among science teachers is having a "devastating impact" on pupils' education.

It also documents how science teachers were under pressure to inflate grades under the - since abandoned - science practical exam coursework system.

The Association for Science Education is backing the concerns raised about the condition of labs, warning of the impact of cuts on technicians.

Dr Singh's conclusions are based on detailed observations at three schools in and around London, but he believes they are more widely applicable.

The research finds that class sizes of 30 or more make it extremely difficult to carry out whole-class experiments.

"Theory-only lessons, even if presented with PowerPoints and question-answer sessions, often leave both teachers and pupils dissatisfied," the paper says. "Frustrations build up and demoralisation sets in, leading some teachers simply to leave after a few terms."

At one participant school, which has an "outstanding" Ofsted rating, more than three-quarters of teachers in the science department left during the 2014-15 academic year - two newly qualified teachers and seven experienced teachers.

At another "outstanding" school, five teachers out of a department of 12 left in the course of one academic year and were replaced by five new teachers - all of whom had left the school by the following year.

The news follows a National Foundation for Educational Research report this month showing that science teachers have a higher than average risk of exiting the profession (see statistics, right).

At all three of Dr Singh's case study schools, the bottom sets in Years 7 and 8 were taught by teachers who were not specialists in science, and demonstrations were confined to watching YouTube videos.

Damage and detritus

According to the paper, another factor hampering practical work was the fact that laboratories were not being cleaned or maintained properly, "resulting in dirty sinks, electrical sockets remaining damaged for weeks, cables being strewn over the floor and, often, projectors' off/on pointers going missing or being broken". …

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