Investing in science and engineering
13 Mar 2012
To celebrate National Science and Engineering week between 9 and 18 March, we shine a light on providers that are working hard to inspire future scientists and engineers.
A recent Ofsted report, Improving science in colleges – a survey of good practice, highlighted that science teachers that ensured a good balance of theory and practical activities which took account of students’ starting points enabled students to progress. It found that the most successful colleges worked with local universities to provide courses that led directly to undergraduate study. They also organised field trips to industry providers and employers to stimulate interest and broaden students’ perspectives.
City and Islington College in the London borough of Islington is one of 15 colleges surveyed for the report. Staff promote science by visiting local schools and inviting teachers and pupils to the college. They share good practice with teachers about successful ways to make science teaching more interesting and innovative. The college hosts science and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers days. It also ran a career convention where pupils met working scientists and engineers. Pupils are encouraged to research potential science-based careers on a careers database.
What teachers and students say
Kevin Onabiyi, a teacher at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, endorses City and Islington’s approach. ‘It’s great to allow the students to see how science is applied in real life rather than just teaching the theory.’
Jessica Bailey, a pupil from Mount Carmel Technology College for Girls, took part in the STEM event. She said, ‘I want to get into science and I’m particularly interested in forensics.’
Many other students voiced how the activities offered at City and Islington had been useful in giving them an increased awareness of science and related subjects and of potential future careers. However, students that are studying advanced science courses said the mathematical content was difficult and they found it hard to move from short written answers, as required at GCSE level, to the lengthier, more explanatory text needed for advanced study in science. Ofsted’s report explains how support can be provided to help meet these challenges.
Success in science
Another Ofsted report, Successful science, which surveyed science in schools, found more outstanding provision in secondary schools compared with primary schools. The report recommended that primary schools ensure their teachers have good opportunities to extend their knowledge, understanding and skills in science to improve their confidence in teaching it.
Both reports noted that good teaching and learning in science depends on how well teachers know their subject and the extent to which they can generate students’ interest and enthusiasm for science.
Brian Cartwright, Ofsted’s National Adviser for Science, says, ‘Schools and colleges should use practical scientific enquiry activities to engage students, illustrate scientific concepts and ideas, and develop their understanding and skills. Secondary school students also need good advice and guidance about curriculum choices to progress into post-16 education and training.’
Young scientists and engineers fair
Gina White, Ofsted’s National Adviser for Design & Technology (D&T), will be meeting young people, families and teachers at the 2012 Big Bang Fair in Birmingham. The annual event held in March celebrates science, design and technology, engineering and maths for young people in the UK.
Gina said, ‘The Fair is a one of a number of ways for young people, schools and families to find out about the exciting and rewarding opportunities that are out there. As recommended in the Ofsted report, Meeting Technological Challenges, published in March 2011, it is vital that the D&T curriculum is modernised and that teachers use opportunities such as this to support them in keeping up to date with the latest advances in materials technology and innovation. I am looking forward to seeing the inventions and design work of 180 young people and meeting the Young Engineers of Britain.
‘High-quality education and training in science, design and technology, engineering and mathematics are essential to providing a highly skilled workforce and in supporting the continued economic development of the UK.’
Ofsted’s website includes good practice examples of employers, schools and colleges that are preparing learners for future careers.
One of these case studies is a video of how Rolls-Royce prepares apprentices well for the challenges of life as an engineer. The company’s learning environment and business management tools reflect real working.
Another company, Finning (UK) Ltd, invested in the future by designing and delivering its engineering apprenticeships at a purpose-built training centre in Cannock, Staffordshire. The company supplies, repairs and maintains Caterpillar plant equipment and machinery. It identified and trained mentors in each of its 11 UK branches and trained its own skilled engineers to deliver training and to carry out assessments of apprentices.
Through an intensive two-year programme, apprentices master important skills and gain the required knowledge by carrying out repair and maintenance tasks on plant equipment similar to that which they will work on in the branches. In their third year, they build on their skills to complete the advanced apprenticeship requirements.
Paul Lawson, Apprentice Programme Manager at Finning, proudly says, ‘We recently achieved the highest scores of all authorised Caterpillar repairers in the world in tests set by Caterpillar. Our apprentices thoroughly enjoy their training, quickly gain workplace competence and become highly motivated and confident members of the workforce at a much earlier stage of their training.’
Two other case studies on the good practice website, of Turnford School and Ripley St Thomas Academy, show the importance of using modern materials and computer-aided design and manufacturing to create innovative products.
The good practice case studies and Ofsted's survey reports are all available on Ofsted’s website and listed as resources below.