Nurturing Talent: Creating a climate in which non-specialist teachers of physics can thrive

For this guest post, Tony Lyng, former Headteacher of Brockhill Park College, Folkestone discusses five key strategies Headteachers can implement to support non-specialist teachers

Most secondary schools have to rely on non-specialists to teach physics to at least some classes in their schools. Physics is by no means a unique example of demand for specialist teachers exceeding supply. Neither is it a situation which has developed recently; it was certainly the case when I started teaching way back in 1974. If you are a Headteacher facing this reality (and you will be) focus on what you can control. Part of your mission (the most important part) as a Headteacher is to put competent, engaging and enthusiastic teachers in front of students. You will be seeking well-qualified specialist teachers who will direct and support effective learning so that students can achieve the best possible success. The reality is that you may not be able to recruit a specialist physics teacher, and it’s true that other subject specialists specialists are  also becoming a recruitment issue.

Don’t panic, don’t delegate and then ignore the problem, and avoid reaching for the emergency can of Red Bull or bottle of prosecco. Assume the worst and develop a strategy to deal with it!

A useful strategy is based on five phases:

Get the advert right

Be clear that the advertised post is likely to include teaching sciences other than the specialism sought after. (Physics teachers need to be able to teach biology and chemistry at KeyStage 3 – not just the other way round!) Sell this as a career positive – which it genuinely is. Make it clear that there will be good support both initially and ongoing through the candidate’s time at the school.

The interview

Focus on the candidate’s specialism but explore the teaching of other aspects of science with them. Be positive and confident about this. Remember, you are looking for a person who is or can become the competent, engaging and enthusiastic teacher you are seeking. Reiterate that there will be good support both initially and ongoing through the candidate’s time at the school.

The induction process

Induction must be planned and mapped out with checkpoints and review embedded in the programme. If funding allows, employ NQTs from July of the year in which they start. This provides two to three weeks of extremely valuable time for them to become part of the school and their department. It also enables you to provide a programme on procedures and policies, teaching methodology in the school and familiarity with the equipment and laboratories. It means they can have lessons planned some time in advance and can develop a professional working relationship with their assigned mentor.

Mentoring, time & support

All new teachers should have a mentor who they can immediately refer to for advice and support. Time should be provided for mentoring to take place and this can include how to perform a particular experiment or approach a topic for the first time. For early career teachers it is helps to also ‘buddy’ them up with another colleague in a similar situation so they can provide peer support for each other.

Ongoing professional learning

All teachers are on a learning journey throughout their whole career, so this needs to be  a sustained experience and provision. All good science departments have ongoing and relevant professional learningoften based on sharing and discussion, and this can be supplemented by external specialist providers, such as Physics Partners.  Remember as headteacher you need to ensure that the resources, support and enthusiasm are provided for this.

This five-phase strategy enables you as the headteacher to lead the staff team and support other leaders in doing so in such a way that the school and the science department have a culture which is collaborative, fosters lifelong learning, has room for innovation, creates a shared vision and is founded in team learning.

Physics Partners can support this brilliantly. What more could you want? It works! Try it out!

Looking for support in delivering physics at Key Stage 4? Why not get in touch with Physics Partners to discuss how we can support your science team.