Encouraging young into engineering

The Northern Echo: Wendy Allen, principal of the new Discovery School in Newcastle, which is taking shape behind her. Wendy Allen, principal of the new Discovery School in Newcastle, which is taking shape behind her.

Wendy Allen, principal of the new Discovery School in Newcastle, explains why she believes more must be done to encourage young people into engineering and what she is doing to make it happen.

Key business people have called on Government, industry experts and leading educators to take immediate action to plug the ever-widening gap in the UK's engineering skills.

Recently Professor John Perkins, chief scientific advisor at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said the lack of experienced engineers was constraining the UK recovery.

He issued a call to action, insisting that we step up our efforts to inspire future engineering talent, or accept even more reliance on skilled workers from overseas to fill highly paid roles.

I am extremely proud that the North-East is leading the way in this venture as we prepare to unveil a unique concept in education next year - a school with the sole purpose of producing young engineers.

Discovery School will open in the centre of Newcastle in September 2014 with a challenging curriculum that has been designed and adapted under the guidance of both experienced educators and some of the region's leading engineering experts.

With STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects central to the timetable, engineering will be at the heart of everything we do as we attempt to open up the minds and imaginations of our students to the opportunities available to them.

Too few teenagers are studying science and we are lagging behind other countries in the number of 16 to 18-year-olds studying maths.

Currently, half of all state schools do not have a single girl studying physics and girls account for less than 10 percent of pupils who are currently studying subjects related to engineering, from computer science to chemistry.

Discovery School is aiming to buck this trend.

We need to do more to encourage young people to study maths and physics to A-Level and beyond, as they are the foundation of engineering.

However, in order to achieve that, we need to educate them about the thousands of exciting, highly paid careers out there in engineering, whether they be in the mechanical, electrical, chemical, biomedical, built environment, materials or civil fields.

Engineering is far from the oily rag profession that the majority of people think it is.

If educators start to work with experts in the field, I believe we will begin to reverse the trend and produce some of the world's leading figures in the industry.

The alternative, which is to sit back and do nothing, is not the answer.

Manufacturers' organisation the EEF has urged Government to launch a campaign to get more women into engineering, echoing claims by the Royal Academy of Engineering that the UK needs at least 100,000 new STEM graduates every year just to maintain the status quo.

With our pool of engineering, science and technology experts stretched extremely thinly, UK firms are forced to recruit from overseas and we are no longer at the forefront of design and creativity.

We hope Discovery School will go some way to expanding that pool of talent, in the North East at least.

Discovery School will be a free school that is funded by Government, offering teenagers aged between 14 and 19 the opportunity to learn in a unique hands-on, purpose-built technical environment, which will be more akin to work than school.

We will work closely with the region's high tech employers to provide a work-related learning experience and a GCSE curriculum based around developing engineering skills, while also delivering the usual maths, English, humanities and modern foreign languages.

Post 16, we will be focusing on a very specific range of STEM-related A-Levels, which are underpinned with hands on experience of real life industrial projects.

Bucking the national trend, A-Level physics is the most popular science of choice amongst our applicants, to date.

It is our aim that by the time our students leave to enter the workplace or go on to higher education, they will have the skills, experience, ability and confidence to apply the knowledge that employers are looking for.

We are also working in close partnership with the engineering and science departments in all of our regional universities to ensure our students hit the ground running when they embark on their degree courses.

I'm extremely proud to be leading this innovative new school and only hope that other education-providers follow suit in due course.

The demand from Government and employers is there, now we just need more of our young people and parents to wake up to the possibilities.

To find out more about Discovery School, attend one of the open evenings or visit discoveryschool.org.uk or follow us on facebook at Discovery School Newcastle or on twitter @DiscoverySchNCL

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