The Engine Room
As a teacher of science I have always had an admiration for the technical team. They work tirelessly to put lessons together for us, to arrange photocopying, to adapt to all the changes thrust upon them, to work together to make their jobs more efficient (is that even possible?) and to keep the department running. They are the irreplaceable engine room and are often unsung heroes. I have been lucky enough to work with technicians who share our passion for giving our students the best education; their job means more to them and us than simply putting lessons together and helping out the teachers, it’s to ensure students have outstanding Science lessons.
I am eternally conscious of the amount of work science technicians put into their job, ever more so with the ongoing raft of government changes where they have to perform their usual duties whilst also wrangling with schemes of work updates. We have recently had a bit of turnover, with new technicians in Key Stage 3, Biology and Physics. As they have become more in tune with the intricacies of technicianship they have been able to identify areas of their job role that are proving difficult (as opposed to just being part of starting a new job). This has led to a number of discussions about development of their role and our interactions with them.
So I posed a question on Twitter (and am now paraphrasing): how many Science lessons do you have in your school and how much technician time is there available? Ten schools responded, with a range of school sizes and Science lesson numbers. It makes interesting reading.
The schools surveyed ranged from having 144 lessons a week to 288, averaging 202 lessons per week. If each lesson had something requiring technical support, technicians had to take out and return 40 lessons per day. This doesn’t simply magic itself up, technicians and teaching staff have to liaise to ensure orders are in. These lessons could come with requirements in terms of making up chemicals, washing up, carrying heavy equipment, transporting large quantities of equipment and even repairing equipment.
Most schools had lessons that lasted an hour, though the smallest school had 35 minute lessons meaning that the schools ranged from having 84 hours of lessons a week to 241, averaging 188 hours of lessons per week. This figure isn’t of much value because technicians’ workloads are mostly dictated by the number of lessons. However, those with significantly longer lessons may require more equipment than others.
Often the requirements in sixth form lessons are more demanding, whether through equipment quantity or through technical expertise. Schools ranged significantly with their sixth form lesson proportion, from 12% to 40%, averaging 28% of lessons as being for the sixth form.
The majority of schools had two technicians, despite teaching each of the three science subjects at A Level. Schools ranged from having 49 hours of technician time to 148, averaging 84 hours of technician time per week.
Making comparisons is very difficult as there are a number of factors at play. Some schools may not carry out as many practicals, some may be poorly equipped so carrying out practicals requires considerable transportation, and some may have an inexperienced technician team who are finding their feet. It was noticeable that generally technicians were not required to do any admin, and that there was a notable split in that some technicians did photocopying. In the schools with more technician time, they did more photocopying. One school had a smart idea of using a school cleaner for 2 hours each afternoon to lighten the load.
On average, schools had 2.53 lessons per technician hour, ranging from 1.59 to 3.17.
The Data and Making Contributions
Take a look at the data and make your own mind up: www.bit.ly/scitechs
If you want to add your own data, either edit the spreadsheet at the link above or if you’re on a mobile device enter using the questionnaire at www.bit.ly/scitechsq (it doesn’t automatically link to the other spreadsheet, so don’t worry if you can’t see what you’ve entered straight away).
As outlined above, it’s difficult to draw conclusions because there are a number of factors at play. It is evident that there is a great range across different schools in terms of the technician hours provided. There are some variations with regards to admin and photocopying, which certainly contributes to how schools have managed the number of technicians that they employ.
Do we have the right balance? It appears to be school- and context-dependent. What works, works. However, what we need to do now as teams of science teachers and as technicians, is to find the most effective and efficient ways of making our students’ education as exciting as we can. This might involve changes in the way we deal with admin, photocopying or ordering equipment. Maybe you feel truly understaffed and the data backs this up? Is it worth a pitch to the senior team to explain that students’ education (and you and your staff’s sanity) is at stake?
A special thanks to the contributors @hrogerson, @mwnm, @mrgpg, @SteveTeachPhys, @icespice420, @martin_clee, @mrsdrsarah, @wjenkins63, @niallalcock
If you are a technician or are interested in discussing and debating ideas surrounding being a science technician in a school then get involved in the new #asetechs chat. It starts on Wednesday 5th November at 8pm for 30 minutes following and contributing on Twitter using the #asetechs. It will continue on the first Wednesday of each month. Click to find out more.