Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300-311)



  300. Is a feel for the assessment passed on to the pupils or is it just done by a member of staff, whoever that is?
  (Mr Peel) Yes, it should be passed on to the pupils and often it is. Technicians often put out cards and safety sheets for use in practical classes.

  301. Another of the things we have been worried about, Catherine, is the condition of the laboratories. We have already heard this today and we have heard it elsewhere in our evidence-taking. Can you tell us about the state of school laboratories?
  (Ms Crocker) A lot of them are in quite poor condition. As one of the teachers has already said, they were not designed for the numbers that are actually using them now with class sizes. We often have to do practicals. We have not got bad facilities in the sixth form college but certainly when I worked in a school, because of the amount of equipment and the number of taps, that type of thing, running practicals with groups of four taking part in one practical meant that three of the pupils would be redundant at any one time, so they tended to get rather bored and obviously learned less.

  302. And how large is that class?
  (Ms Crocker) Ours are 20 but they did go up to 22. In schools they will be up to 30. It depends what level they are being taught.

  303. Is that one teacher and one technician or more than one technician?
  (Ms Crocker) In a lot of schools the technicians will not go into the class simply because they have got far too much other work. If there are 30 pupils most teachers would like to have somebody else in there in practicals but it does not happen.

  304. In your opinion you need more technician support with the pupils during the running of the class?
  (Ms Crocker) I think so. With more technician support you can affect how a practical goes and improve the way you put stuff out. If you have not got time you put stuff out in huge bottles and in some practicals it would be nice if each group doing it had their own set of resources so that pupils are not constantly milling around. Obviously if technical support is short you cannot do that because you have no time to wash the bottles up.

  305. Gillian, you are at MMU; do you get out into schools?
  (Ms Halton) No, but our student teachers do do practical work before they go out into schools. They come back from their experiences in schools and say, "If it were not for the technician, I do not know what I would have done."

  306. Can you say something about your personal role at MMU regarding teaching?
  (Ms Halton) I am a science technician. The students we get in who do 14 to 16 are post-grads. They have come in from other fields and industry and some have come straight from doing a degree. We provide a technical service to the students who do chemistry, physics and biology. We prepare practicals. We help them do risk assessments. They provide the list of what they want to do with peer group teaching. We are a group of three technicians who help them and they ask us to help them and we give them advice. As the technicians in schools do, if the teaching training establishment has not got a practical base, we help them: "This is how you do a risk assessment. Have you done a risk assessment? Have you looked at this particular field?" We train them how to be a teacher, not the theoretical side, but the practical side.

  307. That is very important. Jean, in your experience what are the main shortages of equipment in science laboratories in schools?
  (Ms Skeggs) Certainly somebody was talking about ICT as one thing a little while ago. We are very short of computers in science. Some schools are still using BBC Acorn machines. They are supposed to be using data logging. Most of the time schools cannot afford data logging for a whole class, therefore there is a shortage of equipment there and then they do not know how to use it. There is no training programme because either the teachers have not got the time and the technicians have not either. When I was an adviser in Hertfordshire, because I was only one of three in the country, I used to run courses for technicians on data logging and they used to have to go back and teach the teachers because they were not trained. IT equipment is in very short supply. A lot of schools are on two levels so that means they are up and down humping power packs from one level to another. Sometimes they are on different sites so they are pushing trolleys across the playgrounds with power packs to cover the electrical equipment.

  308. I am rapidly running out of time but I would not like you to feel that you have not said something. Is there anything else you want to tell the Committee before we pass on to the next group?
  (Ms Crocker) I would emphasise that there is a lack of training for technicians. Sometimes training takes place if there is another technician in the establishment and it is their responsibility. But quite often there is not, so this is a very ad hoc basis. Science staff will train you when they have time. If not, there are just books. There is a lack of training. We have had 30 people who have enrolled to do the NVQ over the last few years but as a college we offer it as a non-profit course because schools will only pay a certain amount for it. Our head of faculty works at the ASE and our principal is happy for it to run as non-profit as long as we do not lose money but most colleges would not take it on under those terms. There is a huge lack of progress in that.


  309. Is there a set number of hours that young people must do as practicals? In your experience how much do they do? Do they do one practical in a lifetime of science teaching?
  (Ms Skeggs) Most lessons.

  310. Most science lessons they get to do a practical?
  (Ms Skeggs) Some practical is involved.

  311. So it is quite intensive, in other words?
  (Ms Skeggs) Yes.

  Chairman: Many thanks. You can be assured that we have met, when we have gone to schools in our own constituencies, technicians who have told us similar things. I think you have raised some problems that are sometimes forgotten in the whole education process. We will be looking at that as we talk to more people. Thank you very much indeed and thank you for coming.


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