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Primary Education News
News I needed to get out of the lonely lab and into the classroom
Biology teacher Jonathan Hedwat talks about the impact teaching in an independent school has had on his teaching career
I was always really interested in science, particularly biology. I had a great time at Philips High School in north Manchester, the local comp. After that I went to Bury College to do A-levels in biology, chemistry and geography, then onto Nottingham University to study biology.
I thought I would continue into biomedical research or specialise in gene therapy, and I loved doing my degree, but when I got to the third year doing project work in labs my career aspirations completely changed. I had the sudden realisation that I didn't want to be isolated doing lab work. I got a first-class degree and was offered a couple of options to do PhDs but I knew I wanted to work in a more social atmosphere. I came back to Manchester and worked for a year at AQA exam board, so that was a real link into the world of education and gave me an insight into exams. I started thinking about going into teaching and did some voluntary work in schools.
At the time a national shortage of science teachers meant there was a great incentive to go into teaching - they said they would pay off your student loan if you trained as a teacher and give you a 'golden hello' of £4,000. I won't pretend that wasn't a major incentive for me to train. I did my PGCE at Manchester university. During the very first placement I knew I'd made the right decision. I found it so enjoyable imparting the knowledge I'd gained and I realised I could get my ideas across to students and really enthuse them about biology. I think that's key in teaching, you can be a great scholar, a brilliant scientist, but if you can't communicate your ideas then you'll never be a great teacher.
I found I loved working with young people. I think it's because they are not at all cynical. They come into school with such cheery optimism compared to the dourness of certain adults. To me schools are always an exciting environment to be in.
I got my first job at Audenshaw school, which was all boys from 11 to 16 and then a mixed sixth form. It was a really great place to start my teaching career. The school was well run and well disciplined. It was an ex-grammar and had maintained that ethos.
I find most of my students tend to like human biology the most. Disease is popular, it's gory and there are interesting, gruesome pictures involved. Plant biology can be a bit less exciting.
In my teaching career, I'm always planning new lessons, new ways of teaching. I'm always looking at different teaching strategies; education moves so fast you can't just teach the same old stuff year after year. The best thing to do, especially for a teacher coming into the profession, is to watch other colleagues in school, it's a wonderful way to pick up best practice.
After four years at Audenshaw I got a job as head of biology at Haslingden High School in Lancashire. It is a mixed state school and it took me quite a time to adjust to teaching boys and girls together. But in the end I favour teaching in a mixed school, to me there's just a better atmosphere. I think there can be too much testosterone in the room in an all-boys school and a certain immaturity compared to boys in mixed classes.
I stayed at Haslingdon for three years but then the head of biology came up at Cheadle Hulme School. Jobs like this don't come up very often, the previous head of biology had been there for 25 years. I applied for the job and got it. The school has a fascinating history as a philanthropic school for orphans and gives out a number of bursaries for gifted children in sport and music who couldn't afford the fees. I knew they were going through quite a big change with a new head - so it was a really exciting time to join the school.
It's very different working in an independent school, and don't forget I went to a state school myself so it's not my background. The thing I noticed first was that all the students want to learn and want to be successful. That is quite refreshing compared to a state school where a significant number of students are disengaged and you spend a lot of your time winning them over.
But really the biggest change is lack of Ofsted. After seven years in the state sector I became very weary of the cloud that hung over state schools. I worked with amazing colleagues in wonderful schools but it felt like everything we did, every initiative we undertook was to appease Ofsted. We worked in fear of Ofsted, and I was fed up of it.
It feels so different here. Independent schools are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate. I've had no experience of them yet and I rarely hear them mentioned. We don't base our teaching on forthcoming inspections. All the initiatives we put in place here are for the benefit of our students, not to appease Ofsted.
The way I teach isn't different, my teaching style hasn't changed. There are more students to stretch and challenge but there are still students who struggle with the subject, for whatever reason, and you get the satisfaction of turning them around, but the real difference is the politics.
I'm happier in my career now than I have been at any other point and I have no desire to move any time soon. This is a vibrant place to work.
Jonathan's resources for AS biology students
Find a PowerPoint presentation on the founder effect and genetic bottlenecks with accompanying lesson plan and worksheet on modelling the founder effect and genetic bottlenecks.