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An explosion of teaching excellence in the science department - RPA's new Director of Science talks to Mona Adams

posted 20 Oct 2017, 08:53 by Michele Colt
Emma Swift
is already a fan of Richmond Park Academy's students despite only having been the academy's  Director of Science since the beginning of term.  And it soon became obvious that, with her track record,  she is well qualified to recognise student potential when she encounters it.

RPA's newly appointed director is an electronic engineering and business management graduate of York University.  She also did her PGCE at York and became a teacher in 2001. In 2012, she was the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) teacher of the year.  As well as directing RPA's science faculty, she is also the  AET's  science lead for London – and will be one of their keynote speakers at the  2018 Association for Science Education's annual conference in Liverpool.   It was while wearing her AET hat that she first encountered  Richmond Park Academy.

'As an AET science lead,  I must confess that I didn't get to visit RPA very often because, frankly, the triple science results were good so didn't warrant intervention. But in February last year, Paul Mundy-Castle asked for help during a period of staff transition and I had the good fortune to be drafted into work with the team here on curriculum development'.    Emma reveals that this assignment provided her with a job-change opportunity which she hadn't contemplated but the attitude of the students to learning and hard work so impressed her that she immediately applied for the head of department job which was just being vacated.  She says:  'The students here are absolutely extraordinary with the most incredible potential and I just couldn't walk away from this opportunity to work with them. I've been teaching for 16 years and these are probably the most promising students I've ever encountered.  The added ingredient of the Head's attitude –  total focus on outcomes for his students plus support for staff -  makes for an inspiring, motivating work ethos '.

Some key questions spring immediately to mind. What plans is Ms Swift  -  as science director and 6th form lead -  putting in place to capitalise on student potential and raise outcomes? What is she aiming to achieve by the end of the term? By the end of her first year? She said, without hesitation: 'It is important, from the start, to involve parents and keep them informed about what we are doing and why. Team building is the key to success. We will work together as a department to share best practice and my aim is that, by the end of term,  all our teaching will be consistent and of the highest level.  We have already set in motion student  enrichment programmes   which will broaden horizons and highlight choice – lectures at Imperial College, a  combined 6th form trip with Kingsley Academy to the UN and the centre for nuclear research (CERN)  in Geneva, Saturday masterclasses for Year 11s,  a science club and a weekend outward bound experience to promote the importance of working as a team. By the end of the year, we aim to have significantly raised outcomes across the board with a combined sciences pass rate target  -  ambitious but possible - of   70%. For separate sciences - each to be led by a subject specialist - the result we are looking for is not only consistent progress for all but more level 7s and 8s'. 

As she teaches physics and general sciences to KS3 students and physics to 6th formers, Emma Swift says she daily gets to talk about stuff she loves. Will that passion be shared by her students? Will her teaching  - and that of her colleagues -   help these budding scientists to uncover the latent achievement potential which she spotted on her initial visits to RPA?  Watch this space ...