Saturday, 24 May 2014

A long way to go.

For my birthday I was given a voucher for a back massage and a manicure.  So this morning, I went to have both. 

The young woman, Rachel*, who was doing the back massage looked vaguely familiar.  However, as I still live in the town where I taught, there are a large number of young people that I think that about.  Either I’ve taught them, or I saw them around the school.  I’ve tried to stop looking quizzically at older teenagers and twenty-somethings though, because it does get me some funny looks.

Anyway, after my back massage, I had my nails done.  This was a whole new experience.  My nailcare routine consists of trying , and failing, not to bite my nails when they inevitably snag.  (A fact that was quite obvious, and my lack of nail care routine caused a look of horror to flit across Rachel’s face.) 

It turns out that, like having your hair done, having your nails done is quite a social thing where you discuss the inevitable questions such as the weather, weekend plans and what you do for a living.

Rachel and I discussed my job, and my current commute and also my new job which I’ll be starting at the end of June.  The aim of my new role will be to encourage kids to see that doing science is worthwhile and attainable.

Which led onto a discussion about what Rachel did at school (and it turns out that I did know her) and how she had enjoyed science, particularly Biology.   In fact, she said that if she wasn’t a beauty  therapist she would do something with biology.  Then she asked a question that knocked me for six.

‘But,’ she asked, ‘what can you do in science apart from work in a lab or teach?’

Gosh.  We have a long way to go.  Here was a young woman who, to do her job, requires an in depth knowledge of anatomy and physiology, who thought that science was only used in a lab.

I pointed this out to her, and she agreed that she did use a knowledge of biology in her job.

This anecdotal evidence about lack of careers knowledge backs up the findings of a number of reports published in the last 18 months.  Ofsted, ASPIRES (pdf), the PearsonThinktank, and Gatsby have all looked at the quality of careers provision and made recommendations about how it can be improved.

The ASPIRES project at Kings College London give the following recommendations amongst others:
o         earlier intervention – from primary school
o         break the ‘science = scientist’ link
o         embed STEM careers awareness in science lessons

The Gatsby Good Careers guidance report also mentions this link between curriculum and careers and recommend that:
“All teachers should link curriculum learning with careers. STEM subject teachers should highlight the relevance of STEM subjects for a wide range of future career paths.”

When I am running courses, I try to include a session about the importance of science teachers in linking school science to the world of work.  The current state of specialist careers advice is very poor in many schools and if teachers don’t tell kids what they can do with a science qualification then they won’t ever find out. 

I’m not suggesting a hard sell, but if you’re teaching neutralisation reactions, then highlight that these practical skills are needed in the pharmaceutical industry.  If you’re teaching balanced forces, highlight that structural engineers use the same theory to carry out calculations to ensure that buildings don’t fall down.  If you’re teaching about the body in primary school, then you could ask a beauty therapist to come in and talk to the children about their job and how they need to know all about the skeleton and muscles.

If teachers don’t know what jobs are available with a science qualification then these websites might be useful:

So, if you are a teacher highlight links between the curriculum and possible careers.  If you don’t, who will? 

*not her real name.