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The Big Interview: Richard Grice
Richard Grice believes teaching physics is not rocket science. And he should know, having left a job working with nuclear weapons to become a teacher at Brighton College.
His has been an explosive start to the job, having been praised in the House of Commons by no less than education secretary Michael Gove this year.
Science teaching has been under fire recently.
The latest reports showing only 54% of science teachers were likely to have an upper second degree or first from university.
And David Levin, headmaster of City of London School, said a lack of specialist teachers and practical sessions mean state school pupils are less likely to win a place at a top university.
Reporter PETER TRUMAN spoke to Mr Grice about what can be done to make science teaching fun and better
THE ARGUS (TA): How did it feel to be name-checked by the Education Secretary?
RICHARD GRICE (RG): It was brilliant to be mentioned by Michael Gove. He had just been at the conference in Brighton. It was nice to see he recognised the quality of teaching at the school.
It is nice to know they think I am going places and doing a good job and getting some recognition.
(TA): How did you get into teaching?
(RG): I was always interested in science at school and it is where my strengths lay – in science, maths and engineering. My father was an engineer and so was my grandfather.
I did some research at Loughborough University on metals and then did some work in a couple of places.
Then I worked at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) which sparked my interest in the physics side of things.
I was working on metallurgy with a physics focus.
When I looked to convert from industry to teaching I wanted to be pushed a bit more.
It was quite slowworking before. As a young person working I did not want to be just sitting around all day.
My mum started work at a blind and deaf school and so I had people around me in teaching.
NowI'm worked to the bone but it is good fun.
(TA): How do your skills from working as a nuclear physicist help in the classroom?
(RG): It is quite useful to use a lot of that in teaching – although there was a lot I could not talk about that I was privy to.
When we are discussing things in physics such as radiation I can apply real-world situations.
We look at dosage, distance and duration and I can do that with the pupils pretending one has been exposed and what would happen.
It is really useful coming from working before to bring things like that into the classroom.
That is the whole idea about unconventional routes into teaching.
When kids go to school and say ‘when am I ever going to use that in real life’ you can say actually I have to do this and that when I was working there.
You can sit in a classroom and talk about alpha and beta decay but if there is a story about it and can put themselves there then there is more enthusiasm about it.
You might go off on a tangent and start talking about something but when they start asking questions about what you did then you know it has cemented in their minds.
(TA): Should state schools be more flexible in giving teachers without formal qualifications jobs?
(RG): I was offered to do a PGCE at Kings College London but I thought about if I wanted to become a student again.
I thought I could go into a school and see if I could do it in a classroom and make it without down the PGCE route.
In my job I had to give presentation and write reports. It was a question of could I do it standing in front of someone.
I still had to demonstrate I could do it and go through all the security checks.
But it is that freedom that private schools have over state schools when you have someone without a PGCE.
I think more teachers from industry would benefit on several fronts.
In state schools there is more of a need for teacher qualifications.
But perhaps there is more flexibility in the GTP [Graduate Training Programme] route.
If they want to keep that level of having a qualification to teach in state schools they should be looking at the GTP route as a way to get people in from industry.
I think a lot of the qualification is about classroom management.
Being in industry I had the organisational skills and presenting skills but classroom management was new.
That is why I still had to follow the NQT path.
As long as they have those sorts of things in place I cannot see why you can't have people from industries.
They should definitely be a bit more open to people in industry.
(TA): What can be done to get more pupils doing practical experiments?
(RG): In terms of practicals, one of the things I have been trying to do is to look at practicals that have been done every year.
I can remember some of them from 12 years ago.
It really is something that as a department we try to look at – is there a different way we can do it to make it more interesting for us as well as our students?
In that respect, coming from industry gives you an understanding of good practicals – they are not just necessarily syllabus related.
It is all about confidence. People should not be afraid to let children do them.
It is also about the constraints of trying to fit in the syllabus in such a tight timeframe.
TA): And what can be done to get more specialist science teachers?
(RG): The only real way to change that is professional development.
In my job I went on courses for different things as part of my professional development.
Some schools lack that thought process.
But then teachers are working Monday to Friday, marking at the weekend and only really have the holidays as a break. Do they then want to go on a five-day course?
That is where the struggle lies.
Only then can you make sure those not coming from a specific scientific background can be effective.