Science Technicians speak up for the profession

Over the eight years that the Gratnells sponsored Science Technician of the Year (STOTY) Awards have run, outstanding practitioners from around the world have been recognised for their contribution to their schools, teachers and students.


Dr. Katherine Forsey, the UK’s leading outdoor education and outreach consultant, is also an expert panel member of Gratnells Learning Rooms project and hosted the 2015 STOTY awards ceremony, held at the National STEM Learning Centre of the University of York campus.  As presenter of the awards and an afternoon practical workshop session, she was so popular with delegates that she has been invited back for 2017.


In the interim period, Dr. Forsey has been working with Gratnells to ensure that the STOTY judging process, which reviews entries on behalf of the finest science technicians around, is able to share some of the collective wisdom it gathers.


Later this year, it is hoped that a STOTY Alumni association will be formed, with its own remit through discussion and exchange of ideas to contribute collective advice and support for those considering or already working in, the role of Science Technician.  As a first, contributory step towards this, Dr. Forsey has been carrying out a survey amongst current and former winners and finalists, gathering more insight to the job and its crucial relationship with science teachers.


Among the information to be drawn from the process, perhaps the most immediate attention was focused on answers to the key question “What are your three top tips to achieve a good technician-teacher working relationship?”


Pre-planning, communications, flexibility and organising skills were all mentioned, and comments in this section, as in many other areas of the responses, stressed the need for teamwork and mutual respect in establishing the rapport necessary for both parties, in pursuit of best learner outcomes.


Kay Bell, from Oxford High School, STOTY winner in 2015/2016 put it this way; “A good working relationship promotes harmony within the workplace, we all need to be happy in what we are doing.  This has a knock-on effect for wellbeing and the quality of work we are producing as a department.”


Away from the day-to-day core responsibilities of the role, the group was asked about the range of other activities they perform, both on and off the school premises, to support pupils and other Science Technicians.  Replies varied from odd hours here and there to days or even weeks of commitment, for example on fun runs, outreach programmes, field trips, lectures, demonstrations and events.


Liz Carter from the Warwick School listed an astonishing sixteen examples of support work which ranged from running the Gardening Club and being a school first aider to organising and running an 8-day summer school for year 6 students and working with Surrey Wildlife Trust to develop a River Search for Schools programme.


Another STOTY finalist, Mark Robinson from St. Peter’s School in York, helps to organise the annual NE/NW Science Technicians Conference, devises and delivers workshops at the event and also at the ASE National Technicians Conference.


Many respondents wrote at length about the need for flexibility, the ability to adapt to changes in the ‘brief’ and react quickly to last-minute requests.  Where such flexibility is resisted and there is unwillingness to change practices, Tracey Padgham, a school Science Technician with almost 20 years of experience, was able to propose a remedial approach that she had found successful.


“Gather evidence to highlight the benefit of what is being proposed; listen to objections and see if a compromise can be reached; keep goals, values and concerns out in the open and ask for feedback if and when the change is implemented to see whether it has been positive for all involved.”


Jackie Graham of the Repton School in Dubai was just one of the previous STOTY award winners (International award 2015) to point out what can happen if such issues are not resolved. “a poor working relationship between teacher and technician can have a catastrophic effect on science lessons… students finding the practical aspect of science lessons boring and uninspiring.”


Dr. Katherine Forsey sums up “With STOTY entries for the 2016/2017 awards arriving from all over the country and from places as far afield as Italy, Dubai, New Zealand, Gibraltar and the Cayman Islands, it’s clear that the awards are now an established, valued part of the school’s calendar.  The mini-survey we carried out amongst previous winners and finalists has underlined what an important role Science Technicians have to play in a demanding and instantly accountable job.


I’m grateful to all those who replied. I have found that many of our Science Technicians provide inspiration to others entering the profession and to their students.  What’s more, they have an enthusiasm which is so important to maintain throughout all the hard work.  As Tracey Padgham put it, ‘being a school Science Technician is one of the most rewarding, varied, interesting, inspiring, challenging and sometimes chaotic jobs I have ever had… in 19 years no two days have been the same’”.