Are post-nominal letters important?

Did you know my name is:

Maj (Retd) Shane Clark BSc(Hons), QTS, PGCE, PGDE, MSc, NPQH, CSciTeach, CTeach

A “title” I rarely use, if I do very sparingly. As I found in education such use of “post-nominals” is looked at with disdain and in some quarters with scorn. So why do I write about them now?

Over the last 5 – 10 years there has been an ever-increasing shortage of physics teachers, particularly those with degrees in physics. Most schools now have non-physicists teaching the physics curriculum and research has found that this can have a detrimental effect on students education as the teachers, no matter how enthusiastic they are, lack the subtle knowledge and understanding of physics. As result the Institute of physics (IOP) in partnership with the Department of education (DfE) have established what is known as the Stimulating Physics Network (SPN) to support schools develop physics and physics teaching. An essential element of this is the appointment of 50 leading schools and physics practitioners to support other schools in their area.

I personally like a challenge and at times feel that we who are working in the state sector don’t always recognise the wonderful work we do and how we have incredible talent that we should be sharing with other schools. Therefore, after consultation with the other physics teachers and headteacher, we applied and have been successful in becoming 1 of these 50 leading schools. An essential element of this is the requirement for a school based physics coach (SPC) to lead the project, a role I’m so much looking forward to particularly being part of a unique team of outstanding practitioners in physics education; a lot to live up to!

Within days of becoming an IOP SPC I was asked if I wanted to work towards my CPhys (chartered physicist) accreditation. Reviewing the documentation it is clear that to get this status I’m going to have to work hard at being a leading coach and demonstrate impact of my work in physics. The only visible benefit is that I get to put the “post-nominal letters” CPhys at the end of my name. I get no salary enhancement, recognition or extra portion of potatoes.

Post-nominal letters can be quite a big thing in some careers and occupations. They can be used to indicate an individual’s position, degree, accreditation, military decorations, … In fact, reviewing my own career and past exploits I’ve discovered that I too have quite a number of post nominals that are recognised and I could use if I chose to. There are even pre-nominal letters which are titles placed before your name.

So in my case I could use:

Maj (Retd) Shane Clark BSc(Hons), QTS, PGCE, PGDE, MSc, NPQH, CSciTeach

In my career a lot of teachers would see the use of such “letters” as flashy and presumptuous; Definitely frowned upon. I recall some 20 years ago in my early career as a teacher a few outstanding headteachers and teachers were bestowed honours and awards for outstanding careers and had made immense difference to so many young lives. I personally felt “wow what an amazing achievement”. However, many of my colleagues seemed to think, “why should they get rewards for doing their job!”.

When I reflect on my 15 years of military service I remember the process of promotion and career development. It wasn’t just about how good you did your job and how good your annual report was but if you wanted a career you needed to identify early your next post and then prepare yourself, getting qualified and trained for it. Hence, we had what I recall the wine list – a list of appointments and who was occupying them, from the top job (General) to those recently graduated from Sandhurst. For each role there was a clear name, rank, title and list of post-nominals. As you progressed further up the career tree the post-nominals list got longer and longer. By the time the few managed to get to General their post nominals were on at least two lines! There was a clear expectation of personal and professional development.

Are post-nominals important?

Many in education seem to frown upon ‘collecting’ post nominals. They seem to think they are unimportant as they only recognise the job you do, and “it’s only CPD, so why bother?” Many of these teachers don’t seem to have invested in their own career beyond just doing their job and getting their first degree and PGCE and doing a few courses. Perhaps as educationalists we need to model what we do and strive to improve ourselves throughout our careers?

I recall one colleague who was quite dismissive and patronising when I was one of very first few to apply and receive the chartered science teacher (CsciTeach) recognition. I had spent many weeks including my Christmas vacation writing the application, evaluating the impact of my work and seeking feedback from respected colleagues. This process had a profound impact on my professional work, it definitely made me a better science consultant and adviser. I offered to support this colleague with their application for the CsciTeach, they refuse as they saw no value in it, particularly as they would have to pay for it themselves.

My list of post nominals highlight important aspects of my developing career from the military to Headship and to outstanding science teacher. Each stage of my career I’m justly proud of my achievements, experiences and hopefully the difference I have made. So, for me they have been important not as badges a of honour but as recognition of my investment in my career. Each and every one of them has required study, commitment and determination with no extra reward or recognition. Most have cost me financially, but all have made a difference to who I am and what I do.

I do have a few regrets for example as a soldier I missed out on the TD (Territorial Decoration) by only a few months service and that I have not, yet, got a doctorate. That said over the next 6 – 12 months I hope to be adding to my post nominals with C.Teach (Chartered Teacher) and MBA (Masters of Business Administration), which highlight my return and training as an outstanding teacher a as well as my developing entrepreneurial skill in business. So, I suspect that I will be completing my application for the CPhys (chartered physicist), not to impress anyone but because it will make me better at what I do. And perhaps in the future the CMathsTeach as I become a better maths teacher!

Post nominals are a personal choice, but they do require a commitment to your career and I feel do show that those who do gain them are at the cutting edge of their profession and leading learners.