Q&A Theresa Conlon: Delivering Outstanding Science Teaching & Raising Attainment

We sat down with Theresa Conlon, Subject Leader of Physics at Kendrick School, for a Q&A to discuss their outstanding science curriculum which helps to encourage girls to study STEM subjects at school and beyond. We also spoke about raising attainment and the impact of Covid-19 on teaching.


Q: What are your top tips for encouraging girls to study STEM subjects beyond GCSE level?

A: Having good role models, people that the girls meet or have around them, as well as other students. For our girls particularly, older students are great role models. We do regular engagement activities, such as a weekly bulletin which includes a female scientist of the week. We also have clubs run by other students, and they are really good for girls seeing other girls being enthusiastic and that inspires them. Year 12’s get the opportunity to see what Year 13’s are doing including applying for university, showing them that STEM subjects are subjects for girls and that they don’t have to be discouraged from applying for them. We also take up any opportunities we can to take students on trips to exciting places where they see women working in environments they hadn’t thought of before or to hear from women speaking about inspiring topics. This is why role models are so important.

Q: Can you share some strategies for raising attainment in science?

A: In order to raise attainment, you’ve got to be working as a department, with your colleagues for a common purpose, this is key in science subjects. As a department you have got to be open to teaching and learning and to recognising what the best ways are. Looking at any opportunities for CPD for staff. For example, there is the Science Capital Teaching approach, which takes the things that students learn from daily life and relates them to their science curriculum. So if all teachers get on board in delivering this style of teaching then this will improve attainment. The department can also use BEST evidence to support their strategy. Particularly for girls, they should be aware of all the strategies from the IoP Gender balance project.

Another essential for raising attainment is creating excellent schemes of work within your department, which new teachers have access to. This will help new teachers to reduce their workloads and feel supported which means their teaching is going to be more effective. It is really important for the department to have a common vision.

Some important strategies for teachers to use, which will help raise attainment, include trying to get across one simple idea in every lesson which everyone can get the hang of. This helps to spark interest from students which you can build on. Another strategy is to tell students how well they are doing, it changes their attitude and encourages them to go further.

Q: What impact has Covid-19 had on science teaching at Kendrick School?

A: Compared to many other schools we have been lucky, we have a small site, so moving between bubbles between one building and another is not as difficult as for teachers who are on a larger site exhausting themselves moving from one building to another to deliver consecutive lessons. The whole process has been really wearing for us, but we are lucky compared to others.

We took on board the CLEAPSS Safety in Science advice and from the start we have continued doing some experimental work. We’ve observed all the guidance, but we’ve been able to maintain teaching by bringing some classes over to the science labs in their bubbles. The technicians have been wonderful, moving, cleaning and quarantining equipment.

As a teacher our routine has completely changed, sanitising and cleaning has become part of the lesson, so lessons have become shorter. Lunch breaks have been extended to allow for bubbles to have separate lunches. Things are so different to a year ago, and it’s hard to believe we are doing all of this on top of what we already do. We’ve also had to learn all this new technology rather quickly, we’re teaching lessons in school which are simultaneously streamed to students isolating at home, so setting this up is becoming part of the start of the lesson. Everyone experiences ups and downs with this new way of working but it is really great that everyone is very supportive of each other.

Q: Kendrick School is a holder of a Platinum Science Mark, what makes the science curriculum so outstanding at the school?

A: It’s the outstanding teachers. It’s a group of outstanding teachers working together. Then new teachers come in and use our really good schemes of work with support from colleagues and internal cpd. Having really good schemes of work already written, which can be picked up and adapted to any changes, is really important. We do a lot of practical work. Having good schemes of work and supportive colleagues is the key. Kendrick School were involved in the Curriculum Fund project with the DfE and worked with a number of schools sharing KS3 schemes of work with other local schools to allow them to benefit from our strengths.

Theresa Conlon will be speaking at the Women in STEM Conference 2020 taking place on the 18th November, sharing how to develop an outstanding STEM curriculum and improve girls uptake.