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Are science specialisms dead?

Discussion in 'Science' started by kritur, Jul 13, 2011.

  1. Just wondering what everyone else's thoughts on this are? In the state sector there seem to be increasing demands to teach outside of specialism, even to higher tier GCSE. More and more candidates appear who say they can teach all sorts of things in addition to their degree (often with no A-levels in these subjects either). I am a chemist through and through (degree, PhD and time in industry) and have taught all sorts of things in my career so far, maths, geography, applied science, general science etc but most of these have been foundation tier or up to about grade B GCSE. This year I taught chemistry and physics to the same group for higher tier GCSE and I felt sorry for them. They got me at my very best teaching them chemistry and got a second rate version of me teaching them physics. I could get them through the exam but I doubt I inspired anyone to take physics post-16! I don't mind teaching general science at KS3 or foundation GCSE but I feel a fraud at hier tier.
    So do you think there is a future for science specialisms or will we all become 'general science' teachers? Will the emphasis on triple science and the potential decline of BTec/Applied Science due to performance indicators mean a revival for specialist teaching?
  2. ferrisbueller

    ferrisbueller New commenter

    Ha - we are introducing BTEC this year - Crazy, I know!!
  3. ScienceGuy

    ScienceGuy Occasional commenter

    My department is a mix of specialists and generalists. I teach biology and chemistry to A level (my degree is biochemistry) and I am teaching physics up to Triple GCSE (I have an A level in physics). This is partly due to the challenge required and also because with the GCSE syllabus my school follows, I enjoy teaching the core physics in preference to the core biology and chemistry, and find the additional physics to be just as interesting as the additional chemistry.
    Other members of my department are much more specialist in their approach, particularly the physicists but also one of the chemists. I guess that in the current market, more flexibility is always a selling point. That said, I would not be confident in teaching above KS3 for most other subjects (and not even that far for langugs and English!)
  4. I would feel much happier teaching higher tier GCSE if I had AS level physics but I don't. Nor do I think the school would support (ie, pay and give me some time) me to do this........ I have A-level chemistry and biology (and history and french!) but I keep promising myself I will do physics.
  5. I have a degree in Zoology, and yet find myself teaching all aspects of biology including photosynthesis and other areas of Botany. I really don't find it that much of a stretch, applying my skills to help me teach Forces, Radioactivity, atomic Structure or Electrolysis.

    I understand that colleagues in the English department have to teach English language, English literature and media studies, no matter what their degree is and they don't seem to bicker about specialisms. QTS is QTS and I honestly feel my training has enabled me to confidently teach SCIENCE, and be enthusiastic about all aspects of it in front of children. I might have to pretend to like Chemistry rather than loathe it most out of all three, but then some Monday mornings I really couldn't care less about evolution but still manage to scrape energy from somewhere!

    That said, were there Open-University type courses to enable me to study for recognised qualifications that would make me a dual-Specialist, then I would definitely undertake them. Although I also feel that I wouldn't have the time to add that on to current work load.
  6. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    Mostly my school is using specialists in their subjects - I almost never do any GCSE biology any more, and only BTEC physics. Most of the rest of the time it's chemistry - although I enjoy doing other stuff.
  7. Non-specialist science teaching has come about as a result of teacher shortages in physics and chemistry. What I find frustrasting is after studying 2 years of A level physics followed by a 3 year degree course I am met with another physics 'specialist' who has completed a few weeks training in their teacher training package. Of course teachers are going to say that they can teach all aspects of science (even though they have no qualifications to back this up) because it makes them more employable. However, the shortages have become so widespread that teaching general science has become the norm in so many state schools. Unfortunately, some schools have even continued pushing non-specialist teaching when specialsts are available presumably because it is easier for timetabling (particularly when teaching a Core/Additional class). In January of this year, Ofsted published their findings in their 'Successful science' report stating that 'the better the specialist match of teachers to the curriculum, the higher the achievement of students' which supported their previous 3 year study. I'm afraid it makes no sense to put a non-specialist in front of a GCSE class if there is a specialist available to do that job. We need students to continue studying these shortage subjects at post-16 level and there is a greater chance of that happening if they have been taught and enthused by someone who has a natural interest and level of expertise in the subject.
  8. freshfriesan

    freshfriesan New commenter

    in my experience there is a mixture of teacher types, there are those who steer well clear of their non specialist subject, and those that claim they are expert at everything, some of them maybe but some of them are not, but just dont like to admit that they have weaknesses. im happy teaching all to ks4 if need be and sometimes enjoy doing the extra research out of my subject area. its useful for a dept to have a teacher of each specialism, if they can get it
  9. Moony

    Moony Lead commenter

    Due to the rarity of my specialism I'm limited to going for jobs that don't ask for a specific specialism. I'm more than happy to teach the main three to GCSE as I've got either an A-Level or the equivalent but I do aknowledge that If i got a really probing question from a very bright kid that i'd potentially have to read up on it before getting back to them. I think the key thing is that if you are dabbling your toes outside your specialism you need to have some subject knowledge above that which you are expected to teach and be confident in that knowledge.

    I'm actually going to do some extra studying to try and pick up another science as a second specialism so I can try and crack some 6th form teaching.
  10. I think people teaching their specialisms can still have this problem.
    I think that the traditional ethos that you have to have a degree in a subject to be an expert is simply wrong. Graduates with a degree in astrophysics I am sure will have the same problems with initially teaching aspects of electricity and forces that a graduate in Chemistry will have.
    A good teacher is someone who can use subject knowledge (whether gained from a degree in that subject, prior teaching experience or from reading up on it before lesson) and then impart that knowledge on their students. One of the key aspects on this success is interest in the subject. OFSTED have probably discovered that Physics specialists produce students achieving high grades in Physics because they impart that passion on to their students. They obviously like Physics, hence studying it at degree level, and are able to enthuse their students after. Not because they graduated with a 1st in physics 20 years ago.
  11. ScienceGuy

    ScienceGuy Occasional commenter

    This seems to be the most important point. Whilst not a physics specialist, I have had a good few numbers of pupils from my GCSE physics groups go on to take A levels in the subject. Whilst I may not have the breadth and depth of knowledge that my specialist colleagues have, I do make my lessons relevant and interesting and I am enthusiastic about what I am teaching
  12. ferrisbueller

    ferrisbueller New commenter

    Sometimes I think the student learning experience is better when a teacher is enthusiastic and finds the new content interesting. It feels like you are all learning together, and allows students to feel like they know as much as you do, thus building a good classroom environment.

  13. ScienceGuy

    ScienceGuy Occasional commenter

    Unless it's rocks [​IMG]
  14. Moony

    Moony Lead commenter

    I think I'm inclined to agree with the fact you don't always need to have degree level qualifications in a subject to teach it well, it's as much about general enthusiasm and being able to inspire as it is having the subject knowledge. I've mostly been teaching biology this year and I think it's gone ok, I do have biology at A-Level and i've dabbled in it a bit since in my degree and teacher training. I think it helps that I'm a self confessed science geek too.

    I also think that if we're to really be effective as science teachers that we should try and do stuff to keep our science up todate. So either courses that extend our knowledge of our specialisms or courses that broaden our knowledge. I know it's helped me stay focussed and keep my passion for the subject alive and well.
  15. Moony

    Moony Lead commenter

  16. racroesus

    racroesus Star commenter

    I get a slight impression that a specialism is what a first degree is in and that other undergraduate degrees studied after the first are not seen to give the same aura of specialism. Almost as though a switch to a second subject makes the learner a dilettante.
  17. Moony

    Moony Lead commenter

    Not quote. If i'd bagged 2 degrees, one in phys and one in chem, then i'd be a specialist of chemistry and physics. You can also go off and study some additional science and use that to get you an additional specialism, this is what I plan on doing.
  18. The three main sciences - biology, chemistry and physics are not the only science specialisms. There are other science specialists e.g. geologists and astronomers, and these courses are available at GCSE and GCE A/S and A level.
    As many schools become academies and have greater freedom over their curriculum there may be a greater uptake of such courses. (see below)
    Increases in geology exam entries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are good news for the geology teachers in these regions and for Awarding Bodies that offer geology examinations. There is encouragement here for all the organisations that support the teaching of geology in schools in England and Wales, the Earth Science Teachers’ Association (ESTA), the Geological Society, the Earth Science Education Forum (England and Wales) (ESEF), the Higher Education recruiters of undergraduate geologists, and for the country at large.


  19. I am a chemist, and haven't minded teaching the odd lesson of biology each week to a bottom set, although I only have gcse biology. Sometimes i find it interesting, I often find it difficult to come up with analogies and interesting activities to accomodate the needs of my class. But I am willing to put the time in trying. This year however I am not teaching any KS4 chemistry, all biology to all different levels. How much time am I going to be able to give to plan interesting lessons when I have to learn it all first? Is it right to just get your timetable on the last day to find this without being asked??
  20. If you were an MFL teacher, you probably would be expected to teach all of these - in my school they do.

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