Engineering a better future

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Some inspirational schemes are encouraging young people to study science, maths, engineering and technology. Mark Williams of the Engineering Development Trust tells all.

In March 2010 a group of sixth formers scooped some tremendous prizes as they were named the top school engineering and technology team in Britain. The team, from Oakham School in Rutland, claimed their title at the Big Bang National Science and Engineering Awards held in Manchester, for work they had undertaken with the RAF and BAE Systems. The prizes included £2,000 and a trip to the CERN laboratory in Geneva – home of the famous Large Hadron Collider.

The Oakham team had conducted their work as part of the Engineering Education Scheme run by the Engineering Development Trust (EDT). This is an initiative to engage students in advanced science and engineering projects. The EDT has a whole range of programmes for schools, all designed to encourage young people to fulfil their potential through careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), targeting students between 11 and 21 and annually involving over 7,000 students. The trust tries to inspire and motivate young people into choosing a
STEM career by giving them real-life experience of industry, business and higher education. By building this awareness at an early stage, students can make informed choices about their career decisions at key stages of their education.

By linking students with companies and higher education establishments, EDT gives them role models and experience that they would not otherwise get. This allows them to see that the application, in ‘real world’ situations, of the key skills they are learning as part of their curriculum can guided by industrial mentors who are passionate about their STEM careers. The programmes can also benefit the teachers involved, giving them continuing professional development opportunities linked with awareness of industry. Teacher accreditation is available through the College of Teachers.

The core EDT programmes aimed at secondary school pupils include Go4SET and the Engineering Education Scheme (in England and Scotland). Both of these need students to commit time outside their normal studies – but they offer tremendous rewards in terms of learning, achievement and satisfaction.

The Go4SET programme links teams of six year 8 and 9 and S2 pupils with companies to offer ten weeks of experience in a real STEM project. Work-related learning in an industrial enterprise context is at the core of the Go4SET experience. Pupils involved with Go4SET will benefit from personal development education, aiming to enhance their powers of creativity and innovation. The programme also raises the pupils’ awareness of future career opportunities in STEM. Research has shown that the exposure of younger age groups to science and engineering based businesses boosts their likelihood of choosing post-16 studies in these subjects, leading to STEM studies in further and higher education.

The projects are designed to grab the pupils’ attention, test their skills of teamwork and problem solving and develop their powers of innovation and creativity. They discover the importance of project management, and their final presentation to assessors gives them practice in communication skills. The key benefit, though, is empowering young people to make informed decisions about their key stage 4 or standard grade options with regard to STEM subjects. Some 1,500 students took part in the third year of the Go4SET pilot and 68 per cent of these said that the experience made them more likely to study STEM subjects at school. Only 30 per cent said their intentions were unchanged.

Simon Gladwin, a teacher at Thomas Estley Community College in Broughton Astley, Leicestershire, says: “The college sees Go4SET as an opportunity for students who are interested in engineering to engage in a ‘real-world’ project.
The students gain a favour of what it is to work as part of a team to solve a problem alongside practising engineers. It gives an insight into the world of engineering and hopefully empowers them to make decisions about becoming engineers in the future.”

The Engineering Education Scheme (EES) is undertaken annually by over 1,300 students nationally (including 31 per cent female and 20 per cent ethnic minorities). The scheme links four year 12 and S5 students with local companies to work on real problems, raising awareness of work and careers available and providing the motivation and inspiration to continue on a career path involving science, engineering and technology. Just imagine the confidence inspired in the team from Brooke Weston College in Northamptonshire when they found that their solution to a problem posed by Corus Tubes was saving the company £48,000 per week!

The projects last for six months. As well curriculum aims, they help the students develop key work skills. Personal development education, realised through work-related learning, is at the heart of the scheme. This encourages the students to show creativity and innovation while gaining extensive experience of problem solving, team working, report writing and project management.

The scheme wins plaudits from both teachers and industry: 97 per cent of teachers viewed the scheme as relevant to educational needs while 95 per cent of participating engineers thought the scheme relevant to companies’ needs.

Pete Lindner, an engineer who has worked with Brooke Weston Teams for Corus Tubes, says: “We are always confident that the students can come up with ideas which will be useful to us, but quite aside from the direct project benefits, we like to work with local schools. Over the years we have taken on many young people as apprentices and also university students. Our function at Corby as tube makers opens up many opportunities for both craft and technical students and we see projects such as EES as helping us promote ourselves as good local employers who can offer people good employment with excellent engineering opportunities and qualifications.”

A particularly valuable element of the scheme for students is an experience of university life through a three-day research period on their project, normally based at a local university. The opportunity to study in a university context on an industrial project with support from a mentor allows them to glimpse the career pathways available to them.

A key task for the EDT regional teams is to help schools quickly and easily get involved in projects. The local teams can offer full briefing for schools and handle the establishment of all links with mentoring companies.

Throughout the process EDT staff are available to help, and each EES scheme team has its own EDT mentor to assist their progress. The Go4SET and EES schemes do need enthusiasm on the part of the teams – but as soon as the project gets under way our experience is that this enthusiasm is generated very quickly. The role of the teacher is to facilitate the team, ensuring that they have access to the resources they need and that they are aware of the project timetable. The teacher will also help to manage the contact with the mentoring companies so that the education/business links work well.

If schools wish to start more gently with EDT schemes they might consider engaging with EDT’s Widening Participation programmes such as First Edition (for years 7 to 10 and S1 to S4), Spectrum (for ethnic minority groups) or Dragonfy and Insight (for girls). These are typically one-day events with fun and challenging activities which put children in contact with STEM role models from higher education and industry.

The Oakham experience is clearly a great success. To have sixth formers named on patent applications is, of course, not always the outcome – but a team being enthused by an EDT programme to take their interest further and further most certainly is. One of the team,

Heather Walker, explained the enthusiasm that took them on from the EDT scheme to the national prize: “We took the project further on from the EES solution because we wanted to improve it further. We loved this project and it was for our own enjoyment. It was nice to see how it could be taken further, and hopefully in the future it will continue.”

Her fellow team member Lucy Huggins could have been speaking as a student from any EDT project when she observed: “We learnt the importance of teamwork and communication, which can only really be experienced with an actual project. We learnt how engineering works and it was interesting to experience what an engineer does.”

At a time when we are being told that the best chance of a prosperous future for the UK lies in students embracing innovative scientific and engineering careers, the EDT programmes provide a vital tool to allow teachers to help those students with STEM skills to discover what a career in STEM subjects might look like and to inspire and motivate them to study for such a career.

Geoff Jellis is regional director for EDT in the midlands and Wales. Schools thinking of engaging with EDT should ring 01707 871504 to be linked to their regional team, or find their regional team at

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