After a year, the journey was over. There had been enough blood, sweat and tears to rival an episode of Game of Thrones – and a whole heap of self-learning – but there I stood, collecting a gold award for my school's Primary Science Quality Mark.
Back in May 2015, I decided to apply for the Primary Science Quality Mark. As is the case in many primary schools, I felt like science was rarely prioritised and always overshadowed by its big brother and sister, English and Maths. I wanted to be proactive and create some change.
The mark seemed like the ideal answer. It was relatively inexpensive; the whole school would have to get involved; it gives great science the recognition we wanted; and, more importantly, it had to be sustainable so we would have to improve science for the foreseeable future, not just a year.
Before I knew it, my head and I were in our introductory meeting. My laptop was smoking by the end of the afternoon as I took endless notes. There were three categories: bronze, silver and gold and, naturally, my eager headteacher was keen to go for gold. The biggest hurdle to this was developing links with other schools and outside agencies, and training other teachers – how on earth was I going to manage this and hold down a full-time teaching role?
Then the trainer gave us a document the size of War and Peace. They told us that in less than 12 months we would produce something similar, documenting my school's journey to achieve the quality mark. It would be full of quotes from pupils, staff and community representatives to show the impact science was having.
I began my journey much like a small puppy, bounding from website to website hoping there was some kind of magic formula for achieving the quality mark. There was not. So I got down to arranging meetings with local schools, meetings with my school staff, meetings with my trainer, meetings with local science-based organisations. Life became one big meeting.
I was so busy engaging in science that I began to enjoy myself. I got to talk about science to anyone who would listen. My opening line whenever I met anyone was, "I'm helping my school earn the Primary Science Quality Mark." Some people would politely give me their card and quickly leave; a colleague from another school assessed my eagerness and booked me to lead CPD for her entire staff.
I even found myself photo-bombing the MP Zac Goldsmith at a community event. To this day I'm not sure what school dinners had to do with science, but it mentioned the word "sustainable" so I was there in an instant (with a sympathetic colleague in tow). Desperate to get a quote for the quality mark I approached Zac but was quickly told that he wasn’t doing any more interviews. I had truly become a quality mark bore.
Even with the amazing support of my colleagues, the path to deadline was not easy. Our equally zealous maths co-coordinator was keen to keep his subject in focus, which sometimes meant differing priorities. Monthly meetings also brought me into contact with other teachers who were working towards the quality mark. I especially remember the smug entrant of the nearby Outstanding-rated school who had produced flawless videos of their pupils engaged in science that could rival David Attenborough.
Undeterred, I soldiered on raising the profile of science in my own school, local community and other schools too. I somehow made it to deadline day, where I sat up at the kitchen table praying Ofsted would not call anytime soon, as I frantically sent edit after re-edit to my trainer. I cannot fault her dedication to the cause. She too must really love primary science; the effort she went to in proof-reading my work was remarkable.
By October 2016 I was clutching the golden frame that summarised my work over the last year in one sentence: "Gold Primary Science Quality Mark". I had pushed myself more than I thought was possible: I had led staff meetings, training sessions for other teachers and successfully put science back proudly where it belonged at the top of the curriculum.
The school now buzzed about science. We had developed our own principles so we knew what we wanted science to be like at our school. I had also enrolled us with the STEM network and all pupils were benefiting from having real scientists in their classrooms.
But, above all, I learned that whole school awards can only be earned by a team. As much as I was the driving force, my colleagues’ willingness to do whatever was asked of them and rise to all variety of challenges, their keenness to help me without being asked and most of all their belief in me meant it was earned by all of us.
I was given a small postcard by a friend with a quote from Mattie Stepanek: "Unity is strength... when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved." I read it whenever I need reminding what an achievement the quality mark was for me, my colleagues and my school.
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