Can research reignite teachers’ passion for science?



April 2021

Dr Elizabeth Rushton is a lecturer in geography education at the School of Education, Communication and Society, at King’s College London.


22 April 2021 – With science teachers more likely to leave the classroom than teachers of other subjects and students frequently taught by non-specialist teachers, the recruitment and retention of secondary science teachers, especially specialists in chemistry and physics, is a seemingly intractable challenge for policy makers. This situation means that young people face more barriers and challenges when developing their own understanding, interests and future careers in science at time when the global pandemic has only emphasised the need for them to be taught by subject-specialist teachers.





Through research projects, teachers and technicians were able to (re)connect with their interest in scientific inquiry, develop new subject knowledge.

My new book, Science Education and Teacher Professional Development – Combining Learning with Research, aims to provide an alternative approach to encourage teachers to remain in the classroom. Through interviews with over 50 teachers and technicians, many of whom have worked with at the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS) over the past three years, I share how teachers’ active participation in research projects with their students enables them to develop and enhance a positive professional identity. This research builds on previous research developed by myself and Michael Reiss, Professor of Science Education at the UCL Institute of Education, University College London and IRIS trustee.


IRIS works with more than 80 schools, supporting them to be actively involved in research while still at school. Teachers from these participating schools were invited to take part in in-depth qualitative interviews to share their experiences.


Although research has considered the impacts of school-based science research projects on students, little attention has been paid to the role of teachers. I found that, through research projects, teachers and technicians were able to (re)connect with their interest in scientific inquiry, develop new subject knowledge and connect and collaborate with scientists, teacher scientists and students across the country and beyond.


Teachers described their experiences of connecting with their ‘roots as scientists’ through research. They found by playing a number of different roles throughout the research, they were refreshing their teaching of curriculum topics and developing as teachers.


Those interviewed also spoke strikingly about their pride in the contribution that their work with students is making to both the development of their students and wider society.


So how do you go about becoming a teacher scientist?


Our research suggests the following three ideas to get started:


  • Regularly undertake research with your students (e.g. through an IRIS project, or a British Science Association CREST award)
  • Develop your own research networks across different subject departments and key stages within and beyond your school
  • Encourage your students to present their research, e.g. through school assemblies, participation in external awards and competitions, presentation and conferences and publication in magazines and peer-reviewed journals.


Most importantly, get involved with IRIS and connect with other teacher scientists across the UK.