Life as a new Primary Science Subject Leader
Joshua Piggott, science subject leader and Year 3 (age 8) teacher at St. Nicholas CE First School, Codsall, Staffordshire talks with his ITE tutor, Sally Spicer, Associate Professor at the University of Warwick’s Centre for Teacher Education, about his experiences as a trainee and as a new teacher and science subject leader.
Sally Spicer (SS): Prior to your PGCE, what was your experience of science?
Joshua Piggott (JP): I was inspired by an innovative and creative chemistry teacher who showed faith in me, and I took A-level chemistry. Following a degree in history, I did my primary PGCE at Warwick and took the science specialism. This allowed me to reignite my love for science and respond to the call to share that passion with children when primary science can lack prominence.
SS: How did you find teaching science during your school placements? What wider opportunities were there to engage with science?
JP: Within the PGCE year there was a mixed bag: some schools were teaching science regularly, about two hours each week; in others, it was very minimal. The teacher's confidence in science was important and had an impact on trainees. I had additional opportunities through the primary science specialism.
For example, we held a science fair at a local school, leading learning carousels, which really developed my own classroom pedagogical practice. We had science TeachMeets, where we engaged with teachers and specialists from primary and secondary who shared their experience and expertise. Networking with professional bodies and resource providers developed lots of connections. I was encouraged to participate in a TeachMeet as a presenter. My tutor’s support gave me that extra confidence and the collaborative work provided a stepping stone to further develop my confidence.
SS: What most prepared you for teaching primary science as you took on your first teaching position?
JP: All the experiences and opportunities mentioned previously fed into developing my practice as a primary teacher, but also specialising within primary science gave me confidence, ideas and connections to take into school. Those connections still exist and help me. I have since used the carousel approach
as science lead, facilitated a school science fair, organised a Science Week and taken part in The Great Science Share.
SS: You took on the science lead role in your first year of teaching – how did that come about?
JP: When I had the interview for my first teaching post, I mentioned my PGCE experiences, including the specialism days. I showed my passion for primary science, enthusiasm for practical work, and my awareness of a plethora of high-quality resources, which I wanted to share with staff as well as with the children. I think that the Headteacher recognised that there wasn't really a love for science at the school at that time, so was really happy that it was my passion and gave me that opportunity. Since then, I have been fully supported to develop the science. It’s been an amazing journey!
SS: Since then, you have gone from strength to strength in your early teaching career and transformed your school’s approach to science. Please can you outline your journey as science lead and your widening reach with primary science?
JP: During one of the PGCE placements, when my moderation tutor visited, I was encouraged to adopt an ethos ‘to try things out’. I think that that is important for leading science as well as teaching, so that both teachers and children are encouraged to feel positive about practical hands-on investigations. Sometimes it might not go the way that we want it to but, most of the time, there are lovely opportunities for developing vocabulary, skills and further understanding. I have led lots of CPD for staff within the school so that staff feel comfortable and confident with an approach that promotes children to both lead their own enquiries and carry out practical science. Our Science Weeks have become big and have helped to develop children’s science capital, and have engaged parents, carers and the wider community too.
I've become a facilitator for STEM learning and I'm in a partnership called the Enthused Partnership with some schools around Wolverhampton, which requires me to take time out of the class, but my Headteacher is very happy for us to carry on with the journey and keep developing the profile of primary science.
SS: Congratulations on being awarded the Early Career Prize for Excellence in Primary Education by the Royal Society of Chemistry, in 2021. Has this led to further developments for you?
JP: The RSC was a bit of a turning point. I think having them validate and endorse what I was doing helped not only within my own school and with the staff there, but also across the local community. It gave me a platform from which to go and share practice with other local schools.
It has also led to further opportunities. I've edited and written some resources for the RSC, including some career fact files for primary science, which have been released on the RSC Steps into Science1 website.
As well as Science Week, I led a farming week last year. We had female and male farmers: some bringing their tractors and produce; others their farm animals! The National Farmers Union, Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) Education2 and JCB also got involved. An engineer who was involved in building the world's fastest tractor talked to the children about their work. The children love having people in and this showcases different applications of science. The staff have also learned a lot from these specialist scientists and become more enthused by science.
Other schools have seen what we've done and I'm helping them now too. In March, we're running an interschool competition between six schools. Our theme is engineering, and we've got Network Rail and Collins Aerospace involved. Lots of different things are happening throughout the week. We are raising aspirations for pupil premium and disadvantaged children by taking them to a local middle school’s specialist science labs. I have worked with the middle schools on developing their approach to science, too, because they have found a real disparity and gender gap that we do not see within the primary school, where actually, sometimes, the girls are overtaking the boys. We therefore wonder what happens in transition. I came up with the idea of making Year 8 (age 13) pupils STEM Ambassadors, nominating girls and boys to lead the activities with the visiting primary children. Having pupils as science ambassadors is something that I might try in our school as well.
For more information about this article and Science on our Primary PGCE programme, please contact Sally Spicer, Associate Professor, Centre for Teacher Education, University of Warwick, PGCE primary/EY science module lead.