Policy Profile: Helen Mitchell MRSB

The RSB education policy officer and teacher on helping shape how biology is taught across the UK

How would you describe your role at the RSB and what you do?

Within the education policy team, I focus on curricula and supporting the Society’s Curriculum Committee. Their main purpose is to ensure that the biology curriculum, across all stages, is as relevant as possible and prepares students for the next steps. Of course the committee's main priority has been to deliver the framework for five to 19 biology, where we were very pleased to publish in November.

You still work part time as a teacher – working in the Society’s office must seem very quiet in comparison…

Yes! I’ve been science lead at a primary school in Maidenhead for many years and work there three days a week. I'm very passionate about science education, so when I saw the opportunity to work for the RSB on a part time basis I jumped at the chance – I can help impact biology education at a larger scale while still enjoying the classroom as well. I like the variety – this year I am working with different phases and year groups so every day is completely different.

Can you tell me a bit about the curriculum framework and the work that went into it?

The Curriculum Committee has been working on the framework since 2014, long before I started working with the Society. The aim is to be able to inform policy going forward so that in future, when there are curriculum reforms, we have a document that has been really clearly thought through with input from a wide range of experts across the biosciences, including teachers, higher education representatives, and employers in industry. The document will also be helpful for teachers and curriculum leaders in justifying their own curriculums in their schools.

It has been inspiring to have all these different people come together in one room with a shared purpose.

What’s on the horizon now it has been published?

Firstly, we want to hold discussions with the Department for Education, Ofsted, awarding bodies and other people involved in curriculum development so they use the framework to support and guide development in those areas.

We're also looking at the UN sustainability goals and thinking about more broadly about how education fits in with that. Diversity and inclusion is also a big topic – the RSB believes that everybody should have equal access and opportunities to careers in biology, so there is various policy work related to that mission – for example ensuring that practical work and practical skills are integral to biology education in all schools.

Helen Mitchell is an education and policy officer at the RSB.