Meeting with Mary Ratcliffe, NSLC


Friday 6th November, 13:30 to 14:30


National Science Learning Centre, University of York, YO10 5DD


Stu and Mary Ratcliffe, Associate Director, NSLC

Intended discussion points

MR has suggested the following.

Capturing teachers’ opinions effectively in any curriculum change


  • On-line questionnaire?
  • Or perhaps a paper exercise with participants at SLC courses; rather than giving our draft and asking whether they agree or not, could start with a brainstorm: “If someone were to ask you What is science?, what would your answer be?”. Once they had their own thoughts they could then look at our draft and agree or suggest changes.


  • Happy to go with Mike's suggestions, plus would be nice to gauge what kinds of questions NSLC would be willing to ask, who the audience would be, and what kind of timeframes we're talking about. Could/should we be there in person if there is a paper-based exercise? Could/should our existing questionnaire be incorporated (much of it is now superceded).
  • Strands 1-3 seem easier than Strand 4 (and, soon, Strand 5): perhaps we should be asking simple questions around 1-3 and saving the paper-based/longer questioning for 4-5? Mike's original ideas for arriving at consensus could play out here.


  • I understand that thousands of teachers visit a SLC each year for training. It would not take much time at all to ask each of these teachers to fill in a paper questionnaire. when they attend their training course. If they're given the questionnaire at the course, they will fill it in. Whilst it may seem easier and cheaper to create an online survey, the evidence is that people do not fill these things in…they are much more likely to fill in a questionnaire that they have been handed in person and which will take up a few minutes of their time there and then. The SLCs are perfectly positioned to do this. Now, if we get agreement to do this, the next difficulty will be in formulating a good questionnaire…

Methods for involving teachers in ‘bottom-up’ curriculum development – as well as influencing policy


  • SLC endorse the process by setting up a course, which they would pay for through the “Enthuse” awards, which we would lead and take a group of teachers through the process we have followed.
  • Ask if SLC would implement the course – ie promote the idea of a course from 7-11 which would be both a “proper” A-level training AND be used to pass the GCSE exams of any board. (I suggest there is not a one-size-fits-all course: the decision process will allow schools, or groups of schools develop their own version. The research suggests this is the best way to develop staff…)


  • I think that teachers are systematically disempowered and at no point from the first day of the PGCE onwards does it even occur to them that any one would be overly interested in their opinion on policy or curriculum matters. We need to reverse this mindset, perhaps simply by actually asking them. A meeting? Could we link this to the discussion point above?
  • Which teachers? All? Just UPS? Just those (few) that are capable? Are they self-selecting? How to keep it positive and constructive?


  • Let's not shy away from facing up to the apathy that seems to pervade the profession. There may be many reasons for this - teachers are very busy, they don't feel they can make a significant difference beyond their own classrooms / schools, they just don't care because teaching is "just a job". I feel that, if we were to start a curriculum project which genuinely wanted to involve large numbers of teachers, we would need some kind of advertising campaign. Just as the recruitment adverts have been a big success, we could perhaps use a similar campaign to encourage existing teachers to engage with the profession in a different way. There really is a notion that once you've qualified as a teacher, your contribution is mainly to a single school or to a series of single school. Sure, some teachers have ambitions to write textbooks or create other resources to share with teachers on a larger scale, but there are few teachers who think that they can contribute to improving the teaching of their subject beyond their own school.

Our views about professionalisation and chartered teacher status - how we can increase the professionalisation of science teaching


  • Greater knowledge of strategies that have supporting evidence for their effectiveness, leading to a qualification.


  • I agree with Mike, but would also like to see some kind of encouragement/entitlement for any teacher to drop to 0.8 for a year and be seconded to a SLC/university/etc to pursue some constructive contribution to national policy/curriculum matters — whether or not a qualification is obtained.


  • Totally agree with the idea of encouraging part-time teaching. As you know, I already work part-time. I have produced a number of films that can be used as teaching resources and I plan to do more work in the future producing science teaching resources. Being a part-time teacher allows me to stay in touch with what teachers in the classroom actually need whilst having sufficient time to work on my films etc. in a professional, rather than amateur, manner. As I think you also know, I left the classroom for about seven years and came back to a much-changed environment. I can't help but think that anyone who is producing teaching resources who has been away from the classroom for a long period of time will have a flawed approach to their work. Not sure I am articulating my point clearly…but basically, I think that being in the classroom on a part-time basis provides me with invaluable insight when thinking about what teachers and students might need or want on the classroom. (Not to mention that I really enjoy classroom teaching).
  • I feel that one of the problems we face is that pretty much ALL the high-up people who are working on improving science education are FORMER teachers and I think this is a weakness.

Summary of meeting

MR expressed many sentiments in common with our own beliefs. The meeting was positive. Not all of the above points were discussed.

Practical outcomes:

  • NSLC to run a joint survey on its home page. Us to write a first draft and send to MR.
  • MR will consider/investigate the idea the NSLC of running a CPD course in curriculum development for teachers.

Further collaboration may evolve over time.

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