“We need to increase status, prestige and esteem of teaching”, says Shadow Children’s Minister

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Michael Gove MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Children’s, Schools and Families, today, 2 July, 2009, visited the Institute of Physics to address concerns about the state of secondary school physics education in the UK, stating that much of the problem for physics in the UK is down to a lack of specialist physics knowledge among science teachers and a need to raise the status of the teaching profession.

At the event being held to discuss a new grass-roots initiative, the Physics Factory, undertaken to catalyse a renaissance in physics at schools across the UK, Michael Gove said, “With just over 7,000 specialist physics teachers across the UK, a real physics education is reserved for an elite minority at a time when we need a unified cohort of scientifically trained individuals coming up the education pipeline to help us face the major challenges of the twenty first century like climate change.”

Policy laid out by Gove during the talk included a need to give head teachers greater autonomy over their budgets in order to reward teachers from shortage subjects with better pay to attract and retain into the profession; a need to make it harder, by raising qualification requirements, to go into teacher training; and, lastly, offering teachers greater opportunity to advance their own area of specialist knowledge through their schools.

Also present at the event were Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell and representatives from local education authorities and schools in Birmingham, Wandsworth, Reading and, to provide a cross-Atlantic perspective, Arizona, US, to give their thoughts on physics education and describe the work they are involved in with the Physics Factory.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell, President of the IOP, said, “The success of these physics factories hinges on the fact that they stem from the grass roots.  The programme taps the enthusiasm and knowledge that exists in the classroom.  The current centres are effectively autonomous and each is developing in its own way to meet local needs.”

Through concentrated centres for specialist physics teaching, Physics Factories, schools within the three UK local authorities – Birmingham, Wandsworth and Reading – are taking coordinated, grass roots action to ensure their students still have access to this fundamental scientific discipline.

Explaining the nature of the Physics Factory in Birmingham, John Booth, Secondary Science Adviser at Birmingham Local Authority, said, “As a unique collaboration between the Local Authority and King Edward VI Five Ways School, we have used the superb facilities to continue building on our successful track record of professional development of teachers to help non-specialist physics teachers teach the subjects with confidence and enthusiasm.

“In September our programme takes another leap forward as a new cohort of students embark upon their GCSE physics.  The response from schools has been huge and we’re already considering how to expand our capacity.”

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