Senior lead technician Paul Cook considers the role technicians play in modern science education

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Source: © Paul Cook

Technicians play a vital role within the science community, especially in education, where they promote the role of practical science.

For many years, school technicians have been left in the shadows, with many confined to the prep room with no involvement in classes or with students. There is often a misunderstanding of the complexity of the role and the breadth of knowledge required to be a good technician. 

Thankfully, a spotlight is being shone on the impact that science technicians can have within science departments and in education.

‘I’ve seen the role develop’

In 2011 the Science Council created a professional register with the award of Registered Science Technician or RSciTech. Several science societies are licensed to award RSciTech, such as the Royal Society of Chemistry, Royal Society of Biology and the Association for Science Education. The registration programme can only be a positive boost to technicians across education and industry, helping them to attain recognition and future development.

Another example is the Gatsby technician project, where I was involved in working with technician teams in various schools. These case studies have now been published and passed on to the government.

The role of a science technician has always been fundamental to the function of a school science department.  But in recent years, I’ve seen the role develop. The fantastic staff at the National STEM Learning centre have accelerated this. Hundreds of technicians have benefited from the inspiring hands-on courses run there.

I genuinely believe there has been a sea change in professional attitudes towards technicians in schools. And I am fortunate to have worked in schools that have valued the knowledge and impact that we can share with teaching staff and students.

Opportunities for engagement

Over the years I have seen and learned many ‘awe and wonder’ demonstrations – even creating a few myself – that I now take into lessons to emphasise key learning objectives and inspire students.

I run a weekly science club and in recent years have really enjoyed carrying out primary school outreach presentations and sessions. It is fantastic to see young students so excited by science, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Open evenings are also a great opportunity to raise the profile of technicians in the school. I run a demo bench presentation during the evening where prospective students get to see and join in with experiments as well as their parents (I’m often told they would have taken more interest in science at school if they had seen these demonstrations then).

I've also pitched in on inset days, where I've led practical CPD sessions for our academy network.

A technician’s role is not only restricted to the science department. I have given a whole school presentation on QR codes and the potential of augmented reality apps. I’ve even taken demonstrations into geography and English lessons.

The role of experience

The dynamic of teachers in science departments is changing rapidly with ever greater numbers of graduates taking up roles. A real concern of mine is that this is being compounded by a growing trend to employ inexperienced graduates as sole technicians. This can compromise health and safety procedures and good practice can become a real issue within a department.

It is vital the knowledge and experience of science technicians, especially senior technicians, is used to develop their confidence with practical science and learn the wealth of activities and demonstrations available.

With industry crying out for practically skilled staff, practical science in education needs to be valued as highly as academic achievement for future generations of our country’s workforce.

An experienced and enthusiastic technician can be a force of inspiration for science not only within a department but for the whole school.

Paul Cook is senior lead technician at Ark Burlington Danes Academy, UK. In 2015, Paul was awarded The Salters–CLEAPSS national science technician award at the Salters National Awards for Science Technicians. Entry for the 2016 Salters' National Awards for Science Technicians awards is open now. The closing date is Friday 20 May.

Image © Paul Cook