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Meet Louise La Pensee, Curriculum Director for Science

How did you get into teaching?
I come from a family of teachers so I have always found the process of learning, practising and getting better at something rewarding, whether it’s for my own development or helping other people to develop. I gained experience working in a lab environment initially in my career, but ultimately I always wanted to go into education at some point, and I’m glad I did. It hasn’t disappointed, being there for pupils as a mentor or an instructor and seeing what they can achieve with my support is one of the best parts of the job.

Why did you decide to start teaching at a UTC?
I have to admit I had started to become disillusioned with the traditional pathways offered for pupils who are very bright and able, but who don’t perform consistently in exam style assessments. I saw the opportunities and destinations that UTCs provided for pupils who were being let down by mainstream academic routes, and knew it was a programme I wanted to be part of. I really believe institutions with the UTC model are a critical component of the UK education system today and in the future.

What interests you about your area?
It’s a cliché but I love how science begins to answer all those “why” questions we have about every part of the world around us and gives a logical framework to understand what we experience. As you move further into the scientific method of modelling, at A Level and Degree level, it provides a completely new way of perceiving the universe beyond what our eyes can see. It challenges and rewards you, from being a small child, through to adulthood and beyond.

What is the most enjoyable thing about teaching your subject?
Chemistry is often a baffling subject for students taking it as a compulsory subject at GCSE, but it all relates to things we experience in our everyday lives. Every so often it helps to remember that the abstract parts like the names, symbols and models were invented by humans, as ways of describing things that we can’t immediately see with our own eyes. Breaking down the subject in this way, and giving it context bit by bit, means I can see students’ confidence growing in Chemistry and, by the time they reach Year 11, I can see how fluent they have become in the subject. Lots of moments where I get to see the penny drop and pupils really proud that they get it!

Pupils who have chosen to pursue Chemistry at A Level know it has its tricky parts but walk in feeling fairly self-assured about the subject. Nothing really prepares them for whole areas of Chemistry which are blown wide open for them. As a teacher, it’s a careful balancing act between making lessons accessible and boosting pupil confidence, whilst keeping up the rigour of the subject so the exams are not a shock. Again, it’s the challenge the subject provides, then the reward of working with pupils to build their understanding and confidence and being there when it all starts to slot together.

What are your goals for the department?
First and foremost, it has to be providing the best opportunities for pupils by helping them achieve the grades and destinations they deserve. I am fortunate to have taken over a team which is already very strong and has a wealth of experience beyond excellent teaching. I want the Science department to continue to be a place where pupils feel valued and listened to.

Another strength of the department has always been highlighting the overlaps between Physics and Engineering and the careers open to pupils who study Physics alongside their Engineering specialism. My goal is to highlight Chemistry and Biology in a similar way and provide a wider choice for our pupils.

More and more, Biology and Chemistry make great subjects to partner with Engineering and can lead to promising careers in Chemical and Biomechanical Engineering and Materials Science. Jobs in Games and UX Design, Web Development and Scientific Software Development can all be made much more accessible with a strong Science background and if you want to stand out in a competitive job market, like Digital Media, a good qualification in a Science subject is an excellent option to choose.

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