IOP head of education Charles Tracy gives evidence before select committee

14 June 2016

There should be a culture of continuing professional development (CPD) in schools, anyone offering physics CPD should be a chartered physicist and the IOP would welcome a national framework or core curriculum for CPD, the IOP’s head of education, Charles Tracy, told a select committee of MPs in the House of Commons on 8 June.

IOP head of education Charles Tracy gives evidence before select committee

Giving oral evidence to an inquiry on the supply of teachers by the Education Committee, Tracy was part of a panel of five witnesses answering questions on CPD and its relationship to the recruitment and retention of teachers. He was speaking on behalf of the policy alliance encompassing the IOP, the Association for Science Education, Royal Society of Biology, Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Society.

Tracy told the committee that there needed to be a culture in the school system in which initial teacher education was seen as just the start of teachers’ professional learning and in which it was recognised that new teachers had a lifetime of professional development ahead of them. As part of that, headteachers needed to modify their approach to CPD, he argued. “They should think of teachers as professional people whom they are going to develop” he said, rather than as a resource that they are going to use up. Such professional support would encourage teaching staff to stay at a school and would also benefit the national education system, he said.

The alliance that includes the IOP submitted written evidence in November to the inquiry, and to a Department for Education consultation on a new Teachers’ Professional Development Standard. Asked by the committee whether there should be such a national framework or core curriculum for CPD, Tracy agreed that it would be useful. Teachers completing initial teacher education acquire Qualified Teacher Status but there is no subject or level attached to this, he said. A person could have come out of training as a biology teacher but then be asked to teach physics, and there was no way of checking or reporting on that.

“If your headteacher wants to deploy you to teach physics to Key Stage 4 (KS4), then you should be trained to teach physics to KS4,” he said. “Headteachers should report on how many of their staff are teaching lessons that they are qualified to teach; that would be another driver for improving quality.”

He told the committee that there was a need for quality assurance of CPD. “We know what good CPD looks like – it’s described in our submissions to the inquiry. As professional bodies we also know what good physics, chemistry and biology looks like and we are chartership organisations so [at the IOP] we charter professional physicists. If a person holds themself out as being a provider of physics CPD they should regard themselves as a professional physicist and they should be chartered. That will be, we think, the beginning of a culture of professionalism in the system.”

There should be about 10,000 physics teachers in the system but we are probably around 3,500 physics teachers short of that, which means that about a third of physics lessons are being taught by non-specialists, he said. Many, but not all, could be retrained as physics specialists through subject knowledge enhancement courses before or after initial teacher education. “Often they’re evangelistic because they had a bad physics teacher themselves and realise what they’ve missed out on,” he said. In retraining, those who had taken physics A-level were at a clear advantage over those who had not done any physics since they were 16, he said.

Speaking afterwards about giving evidence, Tracy said: “It was an uplifting process. The panel were agreed about the broad principle and in the detail for CPD. The committee were also on side in principle and very supportive of the comments that were made. We have a role as the Institute because we are a professional body and when people talk about professionalising teachers it’s quite reasonable for us to suggest that the natural home of physics teachers is the IOP. Ultimately, we would like to encourage them to become chartered physicists, which is the highest professional qualification.”

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