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UK’s failure to integrate engineering in curriculum threatens economy

21 November 2017

The UK’s engineering skills crisis will deepen without a fundamental change in the way we educate children about the 'made world', according to a new report.

School students have little exposure or understanding of engineering which is leading most to choose subjects which effectively rule out this career path early on in their schooling, according to a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The report, We think it's important but don't quite know what it is: The Culture of Engineering in Schools, says that although students have a vague sense of engineering’s value, its low visibility in schools means they do not feel informed or confident enough to consider it as a future career. Furthermore, teachers and career professionals lack the time, knowledge and resources to communicate the breadth of career opportunities to students.

This report, the third in the series by the Institution looking at engineering in schools, highlights the need for Government to rethink how it presents and promotes engineering to future generations, especially girls who feel less informed, inspired or inclined towards engineering as a potential career. This failure has made UK engineering one of the least diverse professions in the developed world, with only 9 percent of all engineers being women.

Peter Finegold, Head of Education & Skills at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and Lead Author of the report, said:

“The findings from this report find positive attitudes and appreciation of engineering among students, parents, teachers and school governors alike. However, few schools are integrating engineering into their teaching and the wider school culture. This is undoubtedly detrimental not just to the future of pupils in these schools, but to UK society more generally.

“This lack of exposure to engineering has led to students developing a vague and incoherent understanding of the profession, its career opportunities and what it does for society.

“We accept that Government is unlikely to fundamentally change the curriculum or introduce engineering as a stand-alone school subject. Therefore, we recommend that the socially beneficial, problem-solving aspects of engineering are integrated into the existing curriculum, particularly in science and technology subjects, enhancing young people’s exposure to engineering and its world-changing potential.

“As 2018 has been designated the ‘Year of Engineering’ with support across five Government departments, we believe it is time Government, as part of its future industrial strategy, ensures engineering is placed at the heart of our education system. To begin with, it must appoint a National Schools Engineering Champion to provide a vocal and respected channel of communication between schools, Government and industry, advocating the requirement for greater technological literacy in our schools and the economic rationale that it will provide in doing so.

“With engineering underpinning about 5.7 million jobs and contributing over £480bn to our economy, we believe the ‘wait and see’ position held by successive Governments for over 40 years cannot continue. With Brexit looming and the real threat that we will not be able to attract engineers from the EU to work in the UK, we must encourage a greater number and diversity of students to consider engineering as a viable and valuable career choice.

“Without the recognition of this problem and fundamental acknowledgement that we need more home-grown engineers, the UK will lose one of its most important sectors within 20 years.” 

The report has nine key recommendations on how the UK can begin to address the engineering shortage:

1. Government should establish a working group of leading educationalists and other stakeholders, to examine innovative ways engineering can be integrated into the curriculum (by 2018).
2. Government to appoint a National Schools Engineering Champion to provide an effective and uninterrupted communication channel between schools, Government and industry (by 2018).
3. National Education Departments to advocate curricula that reflect the ‘made world’ to modern society, including reference to engineering in maths and D&T (by 2019).
4. National Education Departments to promote teaching that promotes problem-based learning (by 2019).
5. Schools to appoint an Engineering & Industry Leader within the senior leadership team, to drive change and communicate the vision (by 2019). 
6. Schools to appoint an Industry School Governor to support the Engineering & Industry Leader and embed employer relationships within the school.
7. Schools to implement a robust careers strategy, using benchmarks set out in the Gatsby Foundation Good Career Guidance.
8. The Engineering Community to agree a unified message about engineering, stressing creative problem-solving and the social benefits of the profession.
9. The Engineering Community to provide students with the opportunity to take part in activities that explore the political, societal and ethical aspects of technology.

The report is the combination of two complementary pieces of research: a school-based study conducted at 11 schools in London, Manchester and Sheffield; and an engineering debating competition for over-16 students. The report follows on from two previous reports produced by the Institution on engineering education: Five Tribes: Personalising Engineering Education and Big Ideas: The future of engineering in schools.


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