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MBE awarded to IOP’s Helen Pollard

15 October 2020

Teacher-coach recognised in the Queen's birthday honours list, while other IOP members and fellows also receive awards.

Helen Pollard

IOP teacher-coach, Helen Pollard, has received an MBE in the 2020 Queen’s birthday honours list for services to physics education. 

Originally from Hamilton and brought up in Northumberland, Helen (pictured, left) graduated from the University of Leeds and trained as a teacher at St John’s College, York. She now lives in Rutland.

Her career as a science teacher and coach spans five decades, and she has worked for the Institute of Physics (IOP) since 2006; first as a physics network coordinator and currently as a consultant and teacher-coach.

Committed to working with teachers of physics at all levels and across the schools landscape, the IOP has a strong track record of supporting school physics education.

Both Helen’s IOP roles have ensured that local teachers are kept up to date with new learning and teaching resources, receive the support they need to progress in their careers, and can therefore provide the very best science education for their students.

She is dedicated to the development and delivery of top-quality science education, and to supporting teachers through their careers to help them inspire young people, and in her current role as a teacher-coach Helen has been able to work closely with school science departments for long periods, providing significant support to teaching staff.

Helen’s teaching career began in 1977 at Retford Grammar School where, in addition to teaching physics to every year group, she also taught music to sixth formers – now years 12 and 13.

An accomplished and keen musician as well as a physics teacher, Helen also set up a new music department in the school and, since moving to Rutland, she and husband Alwyn have both played in the Rutland Sinfonia.

She moved to Rutland to be closer to Alwyn prior to their marriage and taught physics at Oakham School, where she also coached hockey, helped students through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and played in the orchestra.

“I left music teaching to the experts though,” Helen points out.

Helen took a break from teaching while the couple’s two children, Sarah and Michael, were young but when both children were finally enrolled as pupils at Ketton Village School she resumed her career.

Teaching jobs at Casterton Community College and The King’s School, Peterborough, followed before she returned to Oakham School in 2001. This was also the year Helen received a prestigious IOP Teacher of Physics Award.

Helen’s commitment to supporting the delivery of excellent science education and supporting local teachers has now been rewarded again, by the Queen this time, and she is thrilled to have been honoured.

She said: “Studying physics can be exciting, challenging, frustrating, satisfying and fun. It allows children to hone practical and thinking skills which are valuable for progressing in the subject, of course, but these powerful tools are relevant to all career choices.

“It is very rewarding to be around when students or teachers are thinking. Some of the best moments of my teaching career involve the apparently simple questions that people ask which make me rethink my own understanding.

“I am delighted to receive this award on behalf of my close colleagues and the many teams of volunteers who have given their time and expertise to pass on the baton of enthusiasm for the subject, and I’m very grateful to Gary Williams for giving me the opportunity to work with his team at the IOP.”

Gary Williams, national coordinator for the IOP Teachers Network, said: “If ever there was a deserving recipient for an award, then it would be Helen. Her humour, concern and warmth are so evident in how she treats people.

“Groups of teachers she has never met before end up chatting to her like they were life-long friends.

“On top of this she has experience, knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject and genuine interest in her students, and any of us who have been lucky enough to work with Helen would probably consider themselves her students as she has taught us so much.

“All of us who have worked with Helen are delighted that her expertise and humanity have been recognised with this award. She just is an amazing person. The way she interacts with people is on another level.”

IOP head of education, Charles Tracy, said: “We are delighted to see that Helen has been recognised for her amazing and long-term work to support physics, teachers and students.

“As well as working tirelessly as an IOP coach, developing and running workshops with teachers, she has initiated some innovative and popular courses for students. All her colleagues are thrilled for her and know that she is a true champion of physics who richly deserves this award.”  

An active member of her community, when she isn’t supporting local teachers and schools, Helen takes full advantage of the beautiful county of Rutland and its rich and vibrant blend of community activities.

As organist and choirmaster, her husband Alwyn conducts the church choir and his own choir and orchestra. Helen plays an active role both singing and playing, and when she’s not doing that she can be found relaxing at the cricket, enjoying a concert, church-bell ringing or playing a round of golf.

Due to current Covid-19 restrictions, this year’s announcement was postponed until Saturday 10 October, and sadly it is still not possible for a ceremony to take place.

Nevertheless, it is a wonderful and well-deserved recognition of Helen’s career to date, and she hopes to take part in a traditional investiture at Buckingham Palace one day in the future.

Many congratulations to Helen, and to the IOP members and fellows who have also received Queen’s birthday honours this year.

Professor Roy Sambles Hon.FInstP receives a knighthood for services to scientific research and outreach, Dr Carol Marsh MInstP an OBE for services to diversity and inclusion in electronic engineering, and Professor Miles Padgett FInstP an OBE for services to scientific research and outreach.

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