Role of technicians
3.65. Science technicians are of central importance
in the provision of effective and exciting practical work in science
classes, helping teachers by preparing, maintaining and managing
the resources needed for practical activities. Furthermore, as
the Science Learning Centres commented, "good technicians
can transform the morale of a department by ensuring its smooth
running and providing support and guidance for less experienced
teachers" (p 178). At the same time, a lack of technicians
can have a seriously harmful effect: Ian Richardson of Ofsted
told us, "I do come across teachers who, when technician
support is lighter, withdraw from doing practical work and therefore
revert to a rather more didactic approach to ... teaching"
3.66. There was some concern amongst witnesses
that the supply of science technicians in schools was often inadequate.
The ASE claimed that "the level of technician support for
science in schools is not adequate by any of the commonly used
measures" and warned that "without adequate numbers
of science technicians the learning experiences of students will
be impaired ... and safety in school laboratories will be compromised".
It was suggested that "up to 4,000 additional science technicians"
should be recruited (p 107).
3.67. Even in cases where there are enough technicians,
many of them tend to be part-time and do not work during the school
holidays. This, in the words of CLEAPSS, "seriously restricts
the capacity to undertake annual or termly maintenance and servicing
of laboratories and stores" (p 115).
3.68. This highlights the need to professionalise
the role of the science technician and to create a more attractive
career path. As one science teacher told us, technicians are often
seen by senior management as "glorified washer-uppers"
(p 147). Not surprisingly, many technicians view their job as
a "stop-gap" and do not regard it as a viable long-term
career. For example, of the four technicians we spoke to at Huntington
School, York, two were graduates but both were expecting to leave
in the foreseeable future because the pay was very low and there
was little prospect of career advancement.
3.69. The ASE, in partnership with the Royal
Society and CLEAPSS, has proposed a career structure for technicians
consisting of four tiers: Assistant Technician, Technician, Senior
Technician and Team Leader Technician.
This structure is underpinned by a new National Vocational Qualification,
Laboratory and Associated Technical Activities (LATA). In taking
the NVQ, technicians will be supported through a "virtual"
centre, the Technicians' National Assessment Centre, which will
allow them "to engage with the qualification without having
to regularly attend sessions away from the workplace".
The scheme is being piloted and is expected to be made available
nationally in 2007.
3.70. However, Dr Derek Bell, Chief Executive
of the ASE, expressed disappointment that "when the Government
brought in their workforce agreement [they] did not have a category
which was specifically for technicians ... because they were seen
as being linked to the teaching assistants" (Q 245). This
impression was reinforced by the Schools Minister, Jim Knight
MP, who, when speaking about career progression for technicians,
focused on "progression through to higher level teaching
assistants" which would "give them great satisfaction
and allow them to use their enthusiasm for science more effectively"
(Q 64). Whilst it is important that technicians should have the
opportunity to become higher level teaching assistants, the two
careers are distinct. The Minister's words risk giving the impression
that the technician's work is not as worthwhile as that of a teaching
assistant. Technicians must be assured that they can have a fulfilling
career that enables them to progress whilst remaining technicians.
3.71. It is also important that technicians should
have the opportunity to undertake continuing professional development
(CPD) and thereby maximise their chances of progressing in their
career. CLEAPSS reported that an increasing number of technicians
were taking their CPD courses and the Science Learning Centres
noted that they too had experienced "strong demand"
from technicians since opening, which is welcome (p 178). However,
it remains necessary for the Government and other bodies such
as the ASE to convey consistently to schools the value of sending
their technicians on such courses.
3.72. A motivated and well-trained supply
of technicians is an essential component of effective science
teaching. We therefore wholeheartedly endorse the ASE's proposed
career structure for technicians, the new NVQ and the virtual
assessment centre. We recommend these proposals to the Government,
and in addition invite them to consider whether the career structure
could be linked to advisory salary scales, in an attempt to increase
the almost universally low level of pay for technicians.