Practical experiments in school science lessons and science field trips - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Supplementary written evidence submitted by CLEAPSS (Sch Sci 26a)

This paper provides additional evidence relating to technician hours, technicians role in supporting practical work in schools and the potential for reduced or micro-scale approaches to make a significant contribution to practical science in schools.


A comprehensive guide to the crucial role played by technicians in school science can be found in CLEAPSS Guide G228 Technicians and their jobs a copy of which is attached to this additional submission.[16]

This guide draws on the findings of a national survey of science technicians conducted in 2001 by the Royal Society and the Association for Science Education.

The RS/ASE report recommended that:

—  there should be a national framework for technicians' pay and job descriptions;

—  a common formula should be adopted to determine the number of technician hours that schools need;

—  technician training should be properly funded;

—  there should be a nationally-recognised induction programme;

—  there should be a recognised career structure; and

—  heads of science and governors should look at the way technicians are managed.

How many technicians are needed?

The RS/ASE report proposed a common formula for calculating the number of technician hours needed

—  Technician hours per week needed = total science teaching hours × 0.85.

The figure of 0.85 is known as the service factor. This figure was recommended by the ASE to ensure adequate technical support for the science curriculum. The ASE also stated the quality of the technician support that could be expected for different service factors.
Service factor
Quality of technician support
This is the recommended allocation of technician support to science teaching for a compact suite of laboratories with adjoining preparation and storage space. All functions are feasible, including access to training and the development of opportunities to meet a school's changing needs.
At this level of allocation, provision of the full range of functions will depend upon recruiting well-qualified and experienced technicians. Where the full range is possible there will be a need to prioritise functions and decide on the emphasis of support required. It may still be possible to achieve a balance between resource-related, design & development and direct support activities.
It will not be possible to deliver all functions adequately and a restricted range of priorities will need to be identified. Efficient management of resources and administration are likely to be affected and activities related to the design & development of practical programmes and direct support will be in jeopardy. Functions possible may well depend on the skills and experience available and a policy for training will be essential if an effective service is to be maintained.
Functions will be markedly reduced and in most cases no more than simple, immediate, maintenance and control will be possible. In the long term, efficiency in these will be impaired. The availability and range of resources will become restricted and the development of effective practical programmes is likely to be impaired. A supervisory structure for the less experienced may have to be provided from elsewhere. Regular training will be essential but difficult to provide.

It should be noted that these factors are based on a 52 week working year and not a term time only pattern of working.

Although no comprehensive survey has been completed since, CLEAPSS believes that technician working hours have steadily decreased over the past 10 years with the majority of secondary schools struggling to achieve the lowest service factor. In addition term time only working has become more common place and very recently there has been an increase in calls to the CLEAPSS helpline from technicians working in schools where a further reduction in working hours in being proposed. It would appear that the link between the sufficiency of technician support, the quality of practical activity and ultimately the outcomes for pupils is still not widely appreciated.


This idea was raised in one of the oral evidence sessions where CLEAPSS was not present.

CLEAPSS believes that there is significant potential for technicians to work alongside teachers in co-deigning the practical component of learning in science. Teachers determine the learning intended for pupils and are ultimately responsible for designing the lesson however in many cases experienced technicians can offer a valuable insight into suitable practical activities to support pupils learning.

In the current climate it is difficult for teachers to be released from teaching to attend CPD focusing on developing practical expertise. With no cover implications it is easier for technicians to access CPD in school time—this is reflected in the take up of CLEAPSS CPD where the ratio of technician training days to teacher training days is roughly three to one.

At around £85.00 per day CLEAPSS training is very cost effective. It is designed to allow technicians to learn not just safe and effective ways to set up and clear away practical tasks but also to experience what the pupils actually do in the activities. This puts the technician in a strong position to support teachers. CLEAPSS has adopted this strategy as a pragmatic response to the increasing difficulty of accessing teachers directly through CPD.

Discussions with technicians attending CLEAPSS CPD sessions (in excess of 1,000 technicians attend CLEAPSS CPD each year) suggest that in some schools technicians already support teachers with the design of practical activities but that where this occurs it is opportunistic rather than planned. Whereas a technician might, for example, be called upon by a newly qualified teacher to help select and adapt a practical activity to suit a particular lesson they are much less likely to be able to persuade a more experienced teacher to try out a new technique that they have come across through a CPD opportunity or a technician network. In many science departments the technician's expertise with practical activities is under-valued by teachers in CLEAPSS' opinion this is profoundly unhelpful, leading to resentment on the part of technicians and missed opportunities for improved practical learning opportunities for pupils.

CLEAPSS has recently piloted a 12 day CPD programme for new science technicians. One of the aims of this programme is to increase the technician's confidence and encourage then to see themselves as partners with teachers when it comes to devising practical activities. Initial feedback from the participants and their schools has been very encouraging.


In essence reduced and micro-scale approaches are about using smaller quantities of materials in practical activities. The smaller quantities necessitate different practical techniques and different apparatus.

CLEAPSS believes that reduced and micro-scale approaches have an important part to play in the future of practical work in science education.

The use of reduced or micro-scale approaches to science is common countries in the far-east, middle-east, Africa and parts of Europe, both in science education but also in research and commercial fields. The driver for the adoption of these approaches varies between contexts but includes a lack of specialist laboratory accommodation, difficulties in obtaining apparatus and reagents and tight controls over disposal of waste into the environment.

In UK education reduced and micro-scale approaches are currently uncommon. It has been observed, that in school chemistry, for example, the standard apparatus has not changed at all in the last 100 years, to put it simply, chemistry teachers in the UK are still predominantly "bucket chemists". In contrast science technicians are overwhelmingly positive about the micro-scale approaches they are introduced to on CLEAPSS courses but invariable go on to bemoan their lack of influence over teachers practice in the classroom.

Common objections to the use of reduced or micro-scale approaches from teachers in schools in the UK:

—  The equipment and methods are not in our text books.

—  Exam boards do not use these approaches in practical examinations.

—  It's not what I expect with chemical equipment; there is no Bunsen burner in many of the experiments.

—  Too small and fiddly for me and my pupils to use (mostly from teachers of boys).

—  It is not spectacular enough to hold the attention of my pupils.

In contrast to the above list CLEAPSS' experience of working on micro-scale approaches suggests the following:

—  It allows a once dangerous experiment to be carried out more safely, sometimes as a class practical rather than a demonstration.

—  It shortens the time taken to complete practical activities so lessons are less rushed.

—  It will, in the long run, reduce the cost of equipment and of consumable materials.

—  It enables the teacher to have a firmer teaching relationship and better class control.

—  It enables the user to obtain stunning visible effects when filmed or projected onto a whiteboard.

—  It reduces technician time in disposal and clearing up.

—  It reduces waste, a factor that is becoming important in the UK.

—  It can show equivalent, or in some cases better, quantitative results.

Examples of effective, low cost, reduced scale chemistry activities can be seen on the CLEAPSS YouTube Channel

Steve Jones (Director)

July 2011

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Prepared 14 September 2011