Bid to put postdocs into schools

June 14, 2002

A scheme to put postdocs into schools was launched by prime minister Tony Blair yesterday.

The collaboration between schools, universities and industry aims to inspire an interest in science by asking selected postdocs to spend half their time teaching in secondary schools. Teachers and pupils will benefit from being introduced to cutting-edge science and the postdocs will gain a postgraduate teaching qualification.

GlaxoSmithKline has pledged up to £1 million to the project, and a pilot scheme involving postdocs at Imperial College, London, will begin in schools in September.

Speaking at last night's annual Technology College Trust lecture at the Royal Society, Sir Richard Sykes, rector of Imperial, said: "Few scientists are electing to become science teachers. This will undoubtedly lead to even fewer people studying science in the future and a further decline in the number of qualified science teachers and pupils interested in science. We must get out of this vicious circle."

Over the next three years, the scheme - dubbed Inspire - will place postdoctoral research assistants in specialist science or combined science and engineering colleges. The first schools to receive specialist science college status are due to be announced next month.

The postdocs will spend half a term teaching, followed by half a term doing research. After three years, the postdocs will have acquired qualified-teacher status, probably through completing a part-time postgraduate certificate in education.

* Royal Society president Lord May of Oxford has warned Gordon Brown not to restrict funding to research that promises an immediate financial payback.

He welcomed the chancellor's promise to invest in science, given at the Amicus trade union conference in Blackpool, but said: "We hope the Treasury recognises that the investment in curiosity-driven blue-skies research, which often produces long-term benefits, is as important as the funding for work that generates more immediate economic returns."

Lobby group Save British Science's director, Peter Cotgreave, said: "The chancellor demonstrated that the message is getting home. Although we have seen some new money for laboratories in the past two spending reviews, there remains a long way to go and the issue of recruitment is paramount."

Sir Gareth Roberts, author of a report on the supply of scientists in the UK, said the chancellor's speech, together with the prime minister's recent speech supporting science, made him hopeful his recommendations would be funded.

He said that getting trained undergraduates and postgraduates working in schools was the priority.

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