Robert Parker, the Royal Society of Chemistry's chief executive, on celebrating the past and supporting the future of chemistry education


Robert Parker

I'm delighted to congratulate Education in Chemistry on celebrating 50 years of high-quality essential content for teachers and students of chemistry. It's a remarkable achievement that also clearly highlights the importance of everyone having access to an inspiring chemistry education. It's the perfect time to share with you why and how we strive to improve it at all levels and to celebrate some of the things we have achieved in recent years.

If we want to tackle global challenges and create a thriving economy, we need the talents and expertise of chemical scientists - and we need more of them. The UK already produces many high-calibre chemistry graduates. But we can't rest on our laurels.

To create a vibrant, diverse and talented chemical science community, education in all areas is key. This is why we work with our members and partners to support teachers, students, and anyone who wants to teach, learn or enjoy chemistry. Be it through inspiring children, supporting scientists throughout their career path, engaging the public through outreach activities or fostering collaborations around the world - we champion chemical science education on all fronts.

A scientist from birth

Like the case for so many of us, it was my teachers' passion for chemistry that sparked my interest in the chemical sciences. This is why we firmly believe that each and every primary school should have at least one science specialist. Specialists, who share their knowledge and inspire students and fellow teachers with their enthusiasm, will vastly improve a child's understanding and engagement with the subject.

However, to avoid the risk of losing a student's interest in science, it is vital that there is the necessary support in place to develop and nurture this initial spark throughout a student's academic career. One of our major strategic priorities is to strengthen and bolster the UK talent pipeline - making sure that all those involved with chemistry are supported at every step of their education and career. Education in Chemistry is a vital facet of our work in connecting teachers and students with the latest educational news and research, and retaining their interest in, and dedication to, the chemical sciences.

We wholeheartedly believe that all post-14 students deserve to be taught chemistry by a chemistry specialist. The number of people teaching chemistry without a chemistry qualification that is higher than A-level, is a concern. No doubt this is an ambitious target. But I am confident that we can deliver a positive change.

Developing teaching talent

To effect this change, we teamed up with the English Department for Education, to manage and allocate around seventy £20,000 tax-free Initial Teacher Training scholarships. These scholarships actively help to guide high quality graduates into teaching.

And we also support those who are already teaching. Many of our training courses, such as 'Developing Expertise in Practical Chemistry' and those focusing on hard to teach topics have seen a tremendous uptake. Within our extensive continuing professional development (CPD) programme, the 'Chemistry for Non-Specialists' course was attended by 172 teachers last year, benefiting over 15,000 students.

Our regional coordinators are based nationwide in the UK and Ireland and are always on hand to help out. They meet with teachers to highlight the support that's freely available, including working with networks of chemistry teachers, organising events for students to showcase chemistry such as ChemNet events and Chemistry at Work, and collaborating with higher education institutes, member networks and industry to enable the community to work together to support the teaching and learning of chemistry. Through Education in Chemistry we work closely with the regional coordinators to strengthen links and share best practice with teachers and students across the country.

A unified education offering

Supporting the next generation of chemical scientists involves more than highly trained and engaging teachers. We want to make sure that all students have a chance to experience inspiring chemistry. To enable this we built our award-winning online collection of chemistry teaching and learning resources, Learn Chemistry, which has reached over 780,000 students and teachers since its launch in early 2012.

Let's celebrate this half century of excellence and work towards a half century more...

And we're not stopping there. We have plans to expand this to reach over ten million users, and launch many new resources and activities, such as online experimentation. We will tightly integrate all our education offerings, including Education in Chemistry, Learn Chemistry and all other facets of our support for education, into a unified experience that makes it even easier for teachers and students to find the best education content online in one place.

As the largest non-governmental supporter of chemical science education in the UK, we already do some excellent work to support both students and teachers - and I've only been able to present a brief snapshot here. But if we really want to make a difference, we need you, as teachers, to continue to work with us, to share your experiences and to tell us what you think - and Education in Chemistry has been a vital platform for that sharing for 50 years. Let's celebrate this half a century of excellence, and work towards a half a century more, and continue to shape the future of the chemical sciences together, for the benefit of science and humanity.