Assessing a new generation of physics teachers

iop-scholars 2015
Successful scholars at a celebration event in 2015

Today sees this year’s second assessment day for IOP Teacher Training Scholarship scheme.

The scholarships that we award are funded by the government’s Department for Education and worth £30,000, including IOP support such as mentoring, to those who are training, in England, to teach physics in secondary school.

The idea to encourage more physics specialists to train to teach science at secondary school. At the moment, out of all the science teachers in England, only 20% are physics specialists. This means that just 10% of boys and 3% of girls are inspired to study physics at A-level. Our aim is to support people who are excited about teaching physics at secondary school in order to change this.

My role as the scholarships coordinator is to manage the application process. Candidates have to fill in an application form, where they show us their understanding of physics (including passing an online test) as well as letting us know why they would like to teach. If their application is successful, we invite them to an assessment day in London such as the one we’re holding today.

The assessment day sees candidates put through three exercises: a 40-minute written test, a discussion exercise, and an interview. We look for people who show an understanding of the teaching career and have strong physics knowledge. Our hope is that scholars will complete their teacher training and are inspired to teach physics in an engaging way.

The support we provide to scholars is one of the reasons candidates are excited about IOP scholarships. We have a team of dedicated teaching coaches who mentor and provide support through regional events to help scholars teach physics well. The impact of offering this support at well as government funding means that we exceed our targets for recruiting scholars every year.

Understandably, candidates can be very anxious when they attend our assessment days. Even though we provide the questions to prepare before the interview and offer lots of breaks and a free lunch to relax them, we do get some interesting responses to our exercises. One big ‘no-no’ is for a candidate to say that they don’t plan on staying in the teaching profession. Some of the candidates who are the most memorable – for the wrong reasons – have been those who have said that they’re not really interested in staying in teaching for any period of time.

On the other hand, the best candidates we see are those who demonstrate their enthusiasm for physics by using props when taking the subject-knowledge-test part of the interview. We love this: it shows us that the candidate understands that school students need to be encouraged to understand that physics really does relate to real life. One candidate brought in a briefcase containing his props and other things, using the props to engage the interviewers very well.

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Layo Obembe

Layo was project coordinator for the IOP's Initial Teacher Training scheme

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