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SSERC’s role in Scottish Physics Education

Gregor Steele, Education Support (Physics), and Radiation Protection Adviser, gives some background on SSERC for SUPA;
The school physics curriculum has changed quite radically in the last few years, with topics such as astrophysics, particle physics and quantum physics now much more to the fore. Some teachers will have last studied these subjects a decade or more ago, or perhaps not at all, depending on their route into teaching. RCUK courses bring teachers and researchers together with the aim of bringing cutting edge science into the classroom. These courses have been very well received in Scotland because the presenters have been able to talk about their research in an accessible manner that supports teachers’ understanding of curriculum content.
SUPA played a major role in identifying suitable presenters when SSERC was involved, along with Education Scotland, in the production of a series of videos to support the new courses. Lecturers and researchers have also presented “webinar” professional development sessions, reaching teachers from all parts of the country. The willingness of Higher Education to support teachers and to care deeply that this support is appropriate and effective is a major strength of Scottish physics education.
It follows that university physicists who come into contact with SSERC are most likely to do so at courses for teachers. Whilst running such courses is an important aspect of SSERC’s work, the organisation is, at its core, an advisory service for Scottish science and technology teachers and technicians. It has been said that SSERC owes its existence to the Sputnik satellite, the launch of which shocked the western world. There was a drive to produce more scientists and engineers to catch up with Cold War rivals, and this was to be achieved by making science courses more engaging. In 1965, local authorities pooled resources to create a body that would test equipment, design experiments and develop guidance on safe practice.  All local authority primary and secondary schools, the great majority of independents and many FE colleges are SSERC members. Staff at these institutions can access information via publications, the website or telephone and email helplines. SSERC also provides Radiation Protection Adviser services for Scottish schools.
SSERC recognises the importance of health and safety advice being seen to be enabling rather than restricting. For example, using lasers in school can make experiments more exciting and effective. How can we do so in a way that is also safe? Whether we are talking about safety, engaging practical work or professional learning, SSERC works with many partners to support teachers and technicians. To date, our partnerships within the physics teaching community, for example with IoP Scotland and of course SUPA, have been highly rewarding. We look forward to these relationships continuing long into the future.