Report highlights lack of improvement in pay and employment conditions of school science technicians

Press Release

Tuesday 24 November 2020

A new report by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), commissioned by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and the Gatsby Foundation, reveals that there has been no significant improvement in the pay and employment conditions of school science technicians over the past decade.

In 2011, a House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report described the pay and conditions of science technicians as ‘appalling’ and called for the creation of ‘a career structure that will attract skilled and dedicated people to work as technicians’. However, the NFER report suggests that pay and employment conditions have not improved in the nine years since the report was published.

The NFER research sheds new light on changes in science technician provision in secondary schools in England since 2011/12 and the characteristics, pay and contractual arrangements of the science technician workforce. The report also finds that the number of science technicians and the amount of support they provide for secondary school science departments, has fallen steadily since 2011/12. The most likely explanation is that the fall is due to schools reducing their expenditure on science technicians as their budgets have been squeezed.

Key findings from the report include:

  • The median full-time equivalent (FTE) science technician annual salary has been flat in real-terms between 2011/12 and 2018/19 – having grown at roughly the rate of inflation.
  • Most of the science technician workforce is employed on a term-time only basis, which comes with a significantly lower salary compared to those technicians on a full-year contract.
  • Since 2011/12, the average number of FTE science technicians per school has fallen by 16 per cent.
  • The proportion of schools at or above the Association for Science Education’s (ASE) suggested minimum service factor threshold of 0.65 (a measure of an adequate level of support) has fallen from 21 to 15 per cent of secondary schools.
  • Regions in the north of England have considerably lower levels of science technician support than in London and the south of England.
  • Schools with less economically advantaged pupil intakes tend to have lower levels of science technician support than schools with more affluent pupil intakes.
  • Academies tend to have a slightly higher levels of science technician support than local authority maintained schools.
  • The turnover rate of science technicians has been around 20 per cent between 2014/15 and 2018/19, having risen from around 15 per cent in 2011/12.
  • Younger science technicians and those approaching, or at, retirement age are more likely to leave the state-funded school sector than those in their 40s and 50s. Younger technicians are more likely to move school than older technicians.

The findings are taken from analysis of data from the Department for Education’s (DfE) School Workforce Census (SWC), an annual snapshot data collection covering the employment records of all teaching and non-teaching staff employed in state-sector schools in England. The data does not cover technicians in colleges, industry or higher education.

The report also outlines a series of recommendations, which includes:

  • A Government review of science technician pay and conditions.
  • A need for Government to consider what policy measures might encourage schools to increase the level of science technician provision and support;
  • More research being conducted to understand better the relationship between science technician support and science teacher workload

Speaking about the findings:

Jack Worth, Report Author and School Workforce Lead at NFER, said:

“School science technicians play an important role in supporting the delivery of high-quality, creative science lessons, but our report shows that this isn’t reflected in their pay and conditions, which have not improved over the past decade.    

 “Falling levels of science technician support in schools and high technician turnover rates are also of concern. Now would be a good opportunity for Government to consider policy measures that might help schools to increase the level of science technician provision and support and to attract and retain science technicians in the future.

“Levels of science technician support are lower in the North of England and in schools with more pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. This may be leading to disparities in the quality of science education in different areas of the country.”

Sarah Robertson, Royal Society of Chemistry director of Education and Professional Practice said: “It is essential that we recognise the importance of technicians in providing inspirational, hands-on science education, as the knowledge and expertise they bring could well provide the spark that ignites a student’s scientific interest.

“With decreased access to crucial practical work because of COVID restrictions, it is particularly valuable that they can support teachers to provide a safe, high quality science experience.

“We know that schools in areas of lower economic advantage tend to have fewer technicians, so there is a double risk of disadvantage to their students at present.

“We are committed to do what we can to support technicians and we urge the Government to urgently look into options to improve the provision of science technician support to level up opportunity across all schools.”