The effective science technician

Written by: Simon Quinnell | Published:
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I have been a science technician all of my working life. Initially, it started when I ...

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What makes an amazing school science technician? Simon Quinnell draws upon his CPD work with technicians from across the country to offer some ideas of how this vital role can support teachers and students

I have been working with technicians for the past 10 years, and in that time there have been lots of changes in how support staff are viewed, and what support they can offer their schools.

Five years ago, after researching technicians’ needs we realised that technicians needed a professional qualification to enhance their professionalism and their status in schools.

As a result we set up a dedicated programme for technicians: STACS (Senior Technicians Accredited Co-Leaders in Science), covering topics from CPD delivery, self-leadership, communication, technical services and leading others.

We are just about to accredit our 100th technician – so after five years and 100 technicians, what have we learned? And what have all those technicians been up to? We recently conducted a survey of participants to find out.

Inspiring practical science

Technicians know how important it is that students have access to effective practical work. We encouraged technicians to set out a vision of what their technical service does, and could do, for their schools to encourage practical work.

As a result of this, many technicians have gone on to create STEM, wildlife, and growing clubs to provide students with extra-curricular experiences that inspire them. Some technicians have taken this further and become STEM ambassadors, talking about their careers in science. Even within the curriculum technicians have gone back and helped develop schemes of work with teachers and researched new practical experiments to engage students.

Creating links between schools

Outside of their own schools, some technicians have worked with primary feeder schools in providing equipment and advice on science practical work and also have run taster days to attract students. Others have created local technician networks to support the sharing of good practice in other schools, and within academy networks. There is a vibrant technician community online, too – whether it is the dynamic groups on Facebook or the monthly “ASEtechs” chat on Twitter, being part of this community encourages technicians to keep skills up-to-date and share knowledge and expertise.

Technicians training teachers

We prompted technicians to describe, reflect and think about next steps on two CPD instances they deliver in school. The majority reported they had been working with teachers, PGCE students, Teach First participants, NQTs, non-specialists and specialists.

What does this tell us? Well, it shows that unlike many other support staff, technicians have a significant role in providing training support in practical work and how to structure effective practical sessions.

For example, technicians have been training whole departments on new engaging practical ideas from courses and elsewhere. They have also been guiding non-specialists in unfamiliar practical lessons – showing physicists how to dissect and biologist how to use oscilloscopes.

Even more interestingly is that technicians are often picking up the training of PGCE students and NQTs in practical science by opening up the prep room for drop-in sessions but also formalising the training into lunchtime sessions.

Although this practice has always happened to a degree it is happening more often now. This may be a result of less practical work training being offered to teachers of all types and a lack of practical training throughout teacher training.

One thing that is obvious is that technicians have sufficient expertise to train others and while this is recognised in most science departments, it is not often recognised in the whole school and this needs to change.

New confidence

The biggest and most profound changes have often been within the departments and the prep room. Technicians have gained new confidence and have a clearer vision of what they should be doing in their roles.

They also reported that they were able to lead the service they run more effectively and provide a better technical service in their departments.

This often included helping to make joint decisions on departmental issues such as budgets, schemes of work and training and taking part in departmental meetings.

We heard from other technicians that have been able to show the impact of the work they do in their schools to argue for more resources, recognition and in some cases have increased their pay accordingly.

Getting recognition

We spoke to one former participant, who told us: “I volunteered for and ran the lower school science club. Previous Ofsted reports (had commented on) the lack of purely enrichment after-school clubs in our faculty (science clubs were run as revision clubs for key stage 3 SATs and GCSE).

“My club is targeted at under-performing (two sub-levels below expected progress) students, to try to engage them and develop an enjoyment in science through investigation and play.

“I have identified areas where I knew my teachers needed CPD to cover new aspects of the curriculum, designing and delivering training to them in faculty meetings and on school closure days. With the addition of science/STEM club leader to my job description, my headteacher and governing body agreed a scale increase on my salary.

“I was visited by members of the selection committee for the Salters’ Institute prizes. The leadership and communication skills that I gained during STACS gave me a huge amount of confidence to disseminate how and why I am an asset to my faculty; this visit resulted in me being one of the Salters’ Technicians of the Year.”

So what makes a technician amazing?

We have worked with some seriously amazing technicians at all stages of their careers. Senior science technicians are extremely dedicated, and have a high impact in schools across the UK.
They increase effective practical science opportunities for students, manage technical departments, train teachers, research practical ideas, lead others – and all to improve the science experience for students. They are unsung practical experts who deserve more recognition and rewards for their hard work.

  • Simon Quinnell is the senior professional development leader for technicians at the National STEM Learning Centre (NSLC) in York. His specialism is biology, but works across all three sciences. He is responsible for all technician courses at the NSLC.

Further information

For more information on the National STEM Learning Centre, visit www.stem.org.uk. On this site, you can also find out more about the support offered for technicians, including STACS and its related CPD activity STACS: Further steps in leadership.


Comments
I have been a science technician all of my working life. Initially, it started when I catastrophically dropped out of a physics degree and needed something to do while I sorted out my life. I still had the enthusiasm for science and having had a few knocks I understood how hard it can be. So I have gone into all my jobs with a genuine wish to help pupils succeed in science and I love demonstrating experiments and generally helping in the classroom. Whenever pupils see my happiness and enquire about possibly doing my job, I tell them to aim high, go for being a doctor or a physicist, because they can always then choose a lab tech if it doesn't work out. Unfortunately, the schools I have been working in have not usually shared my enthusiasm. There has been a trend towards the soullessly corporate and unfriendly which means that support staff like technicians are usually fortunate to be below the firing line so they don't get any communication at all but which means they cannot expect any development or improvement in wage, though they deal with a lot of stress from teachers who are.. this is very sad because from our viewpoint, and we see all viewpoints, the pupils are missing out when the teachers are pressurised by management and start to hate their jobs, leading to pupils having many staff changes. So the things that affect lab technicians, that of poor development and poor communications (in one instance being directly barred from the staffroom) also affect teachers and the educational system as the tick boxing management strive for their Outstanding OFSTED result to boost their career to the detriment of wellbeing of all their staff.
When you consider schools have a head teacher which costs 100k who normally hides in his/her office and up to 4 deputies which cost 80k, HODs which cost 70k, and spend obscene amounts on photocopies which are then left in messy piles in classrooms that nobody thinks to throw out and fall out of books (pupils don't read them) the lowly lab teck on 14k with his/her enthusiasm despite the harsh business environment stands as a beacon of hope to the pupils of today!

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