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Help us influence developments in post-18 technical education in the UK

Daniele Gibney, our Programme Manager for Curriculum, Qualifications and Assessment, has provided an update on our education policy activities and how you can get involved.

In the middle of an extraordinary and unsettling year for all of us, I’d like to share some things that we’re working on in the education policy team at the RSC. I manage our programme on curriculum and qualifications, and there has been plenty to keep on top of in that area alongside our ongoing projects.

Firstly, I want to tell you about an opportunity to get involved in a project related to higher technical education across the UK. If this is an area of interest to you, or if you have a broader interest in the development of technical skills for the chemical sciences, then read on. Other readers may want to skip to more general updates a few paragraphs down.


Help us influence the future of higher technical education

The contribution of technicians to the chemical sciences is vital; however, we’ve been hearing concerns about shortages of technical skills in the UK for many years. It’s therefore important that high quality education routes exist to help people gain those skills, and we want to be in a position to influence future reforms. The Government has big plans to improve the quality and uptake of higher technical qualifications – post-18 qualifications at levels 4 and 5 – in England. Currently, not many people take qualifications at that level in most of the UK (Scotland’s system is an interesting contrast); the numbers in subjects related to chemistry are particularly low.

To steer the future, we need to understand the present. Therefore, through Shift Membership, we are conducting a research project to understand experiences relating to current higher technical qualifications in chemistry and related subjects. The type of qualification we are looking at includes things like HNC/HNDs and Foundation Degrees, and we are looking across the UK. We want to understand the viewpoints of:
  • employers, including those involved in hiring or training employees for technician roles, including through apprenticeships; you don’t need to know much about any specific qualifications to offer valuable insight here
  • education providers, either currently or previously offering higher technical qualifications in this subject area, or who have considered offering them but decided against
  • learners currently studying, or who have recently studied, a relevant qualification.

Taking part involves a 40-minute interview, and you can express an interest through the links above. If you can’t take part yourself but know someone who might be interested, please spread the word.


Responding to covid-19 in education

Turning to other matters; as you can imagine, much of our year so far has involved understanding how the covid pandemic is affecting chemistry education. It is clear this is a difficult time for both educators and learners, with ongoing changes to regulations, uncertainty and the rise in case numbers bringing further challenges. If you are a teacher or lecturer, or are otherwise involved in education, thank you for all you are doing to provide a good learning experience in these circumstances.

Over the summer, we responded to a range of consultations to highlight issues we were seeing to decision makers. For example, we argued in favour of lightening the assessment load in secondary and post-16 qualifications in chemistry for the coming year, including reducing the range of content covered. This recognised that a significant proportion of learners saw interruptions to their learning during the lockdown period. We’re still awaiting final decisions on this in some regions, and of course arrangements may be further affected by developments over the winter; we’re keeping an eye on it.

That is just one of a long list of issues, ranging from primary to higher education. We’ll continue to monitor developments, honing in on areas where our subject is particularly affected and our voice can have an impact. Practical work in education setting is presenting particular challenges, which could have implications for skills development in the long term. We’re highlighting particular needs as they arise; for example we recently flagged to government officials that we are seeing supply issues with PPE for practical work such as safety specs and gloves.


A busy schedule in curriculum and qualifications

All this comes at an already busy time in education policy world. Alongside the higher technical qualifications review already mentioned, T-levels are being developed and rolled out in England, and as I write we are awaiting announcements that will influence the future of further and post-18 education. Curriculum reform is progressing in Wales, and with a consultation on approaches to new GCSEs due early next year. Reform is also the word in the Republic of Ireland, where a new Leaving Certificate in chemistry is on the way. In Scotland, the OECD are conducting a review of the Curriculum for Excellence. All these developments offer us the opportunity to advocate for chemistry education and supporting the development of valuable knowledge and skills for society and the chemical sciences.

To support our ability to do this, we have background projects on the go, of which the higher technical qualifications research is an example. There is also our ongoing work to develop a vision to underpin our curriculum influencing at all levels of education. Earlier this year we published our curriculum framework for ages 11–19. We have work on primary curriculum ongoing, and are developing thoughts around higher education. Following the recent publication of Digital Futures, we also want to think more about integrating digital skills in chemistry learning.

I hope you appreciate this glimpse into our world. If you have any questions about any of the above, or would like to share any experiences to inform our understanding, feel free to drop me a line.
Posted by Aurora Walshe on Oct 1, 2020 2:00 PM Europe/London

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