Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
MONDAY 4 MARCH 2002
60. So do you think that really the curriculum
cannot achieve both, it cannot both prepare people for a professional
career in science and keep people sufficiently engaged to give
them an understanding and an engagement in science so they can
be good citizens; do you think it cannot do both, really?
(Ms Wright) Of course it can; yes.
(Mr Kirby) Yes. If I may, I would go further and say
it has to do both, because we live in a world where technology
that 20 years ago was not even perceived of, we take for granted,
and in 20 years' time people will not be able to conceive of a
world without it. We have to be a nation of people who are comfortable
with technology and understand that it is not magic and understand
the principles on which it works, not to any great extent, but
so that we are comfortable with it.
61. When I was at school, which was a long time
ago, we studied the separate sciences, and there was no such thing
as CDT; that came much later. Do you think, after studying in
the 14 to 19 year age bracket, pupils have a concept of engineering,
or do you suffer from the fact that it is not taught as a pure
subject in schools? Where do the pupils get a concept of engineering
from, is it CDT, is it physics, where does it come from?
(Mrs Giles) Dorrie Giles, from the IEE. Engineering
is not taught in schools. I know we have a vocational GCSE being
introduced in engineering, and perhaps we can talk about the perception
that that is likely to raise in schools; but, no, engineering
is not taught in schools. But there are skills which give young
people confidence that they can contribute to engineering, and
this was touched on, I think, in the last evidence, from the scientists,
that particularly young women, if they wish to be confident that
they can go into an area which is not necessarily a traditional
area for them, have to have some confidence that they can engage
in that activity. I think, in particular, if we are talking about
the example of electronics in the curriculum, which, in the more
distant past, traditionally, has been delivered through the physics
curriculum, and following National Curriculum was moved into design
and technology; there is an area where it is quite obviously an
area of science and technology, and ultimately engineering, which
is very important to the country, to the future of the country,
and something which, increasingly, can be engaged in by young
people in a successful way, and gives them confidence that they
can both design, create, innovate, in that area, particularly
using new ICT packages and processes. And that is an area which
I think we have concern about; it is an opportunity for young
people to develop their skills, it is a vehicle for them to gain
experience of a particular branch of engineering, but it is an
area that is potentially in danger, because of lack of teachers
who have the experience and the skills themselves to be able to
deliver it. And it was something that was in the science curriculum
and has been moved into design and technology; it does not really
matter where it is, I do not think, as long as there is some opportunity
for young people in that vital part of the curriculum.
62. Do you think, the current discussion, that
is going on at the moment, about this 14 to 19 age group, that
brings a discussion of moving towards vocational studies for all
pupils, or some pupils, will help engineering?
(Mrs Giles) I think we are concerned that the perception
is that engineering is purely about a vocational area. I do not
think anybody here would argue with the fact that there is a need
to raise skills at all levels in engineering, for young people,
but I think there is a problem of perception, if the only subject
that is labelled "engineering" in schools is linked
perhaps with craft-level activity. And we all know that we need
talented young people, whether they are talented in a practical
way or whether they are talented in an academic way, or in a mathematical
way, to be able to see a route through for them into the appropriate
level of engineering, further education, higher education.
63. I think we all welcome the creation of specialist
engineering schools; but one concern that many of us do have is
that it might draw science and technology out of the mainstream.
I was wondering what the panel thought about that?
(Mr Lucas) If I could come back, I think that also
within the 14 to 19 Green Paper is the encouragement for schools
and colleges to work together, as collaboratively as possible,
to share expertise, resources, good practice, facilities, so that
if you do set up specialist institutions one would hope that part
of the package would be that those facilities, etc., could be
shared with other institutions, so that other schools could take
advantage of that particular expertise.
(Mr Shearman) If I could add to that, I do not think
we would want, in any way, to see science and technology apparently
becoming ghettoised into special schools; indeed, it is perfectly
possible to argue that is one of the problems affecting them at
the moment, that they are seen as rather removed from what the
mass of people do and engage with day to day. But if specialist
schools can be used to create good practice in the teaching of
science and technology, by being able particularly to focus the
whole curriculum on applications through science and design and
technology and engineering, and so on, that could well provide
useful material for the education system as a whole. But clearly
that depends on considerable investment, and I am not saying this
is necessarily financial investment, in a process whereby that
practice can be spread and can be disseminated effectively to
all schools, and that all schools can be made to feel that they
are sharing in what specialist schools can do.
(Ms Wright) I think, when we were first approached
with the idea of there being engineering specialist schools, we
were not keen; I think the profession fairly united was not keen,
because we thought it was probably some way of going for two-tier
or three-tier education; we were looking from that point of view.
And it was only when the Minister said, "No, no, the idea
is that all schools one day will have this, and it is actually
about ethos, it is about developing effective practice in teaching
and learning, and so on," that we then saw where the opportunities
were. Because if we could develop, through these, some really
good examples of different teaching and learning, actually to
move curriculum forward, it would support the various pilots and
the various other things that the QCA, and everybody, are trying
to do, and it would help enormously, and then we could see where
this could actually help. But we did not want to see what we suspected
it was, that it was engineering being thought of as something
that engineering is not.
64. The link with design and technology has
already been explored, to an extent. How useful do you feel that
the GCSE syllabuses are, in design and technology, in helping
students towards a possible future career in engineering; do you
think it might be rather more useful to roll the more technological
aspects of design and technology syllabuses into the science syllabus?
(Mr Shearman) I think our starting-point would be
that design and technology, as a whole, has made a significant
contribution to the potential development of future engineers;
we have been greatly heartened by the fact that the Engineering
Professors' Council, for example, has stated quite clearly that
success in A level design and technology should be regarded as
a useful foundation for entry to higher education in engineering,
and that is quite a big breakthrough, to get that kind of statement
from a body like the Engineering Professors' Council. We have
certainly tended to believe that science and design and technology
had a lot to learn from each other, and there should be an interaction
between them. There have been particular styles of learning developed
in design and technology, particularly active styles of learning,
and involvement in projects, and so on, and all the skills that
go with project management, which we would not want to see jeopardised;
and the danger of creating a composite area is that you might
lose the particular contributions that one or other of the subjects
that go into it has to offer.
65. I think perhaps one of the questions is,
which pupils take design and technology options, because in most
schools my impression is that the brighter academic students do
not do that, they will do the basic science subjects if they are
going to be high flyers, and are not those the people that you
want to be attracting into engineering?
(Ms Wright) It is across the board; that is why they
like it, all kids. And just an exampleapparently on the
Cambridge course, the general engineering course at Cambridge,
there are actually 12 kids there who have got design and technology
A level. Now it is starting to work through. But it is across
the board that we are interested in it, because it is a different
way of learning and teaching.
(Mr Shearman) It was certainly noticeable, the last
time I went to the annual awards ceremony for the Engineering
Education Scheme, which is very much aimed at high-flying young
people who leave school with good A levels and do a year before
going into university, it was certainly very noticeable that amongst
the award-winners, I think, something like three-quarters of them,
in fact, had A level design and technology, and these were definite
high flyer cases that we are talking about. So I think it does
appeal to the high flyers as well.
(Mr Salmon) I think also we have to bear in mind that
we have skills shortages at all levels, and the high levels are
reasonably well addressed at the moment with higher qualification
HNDs and degrees, and I think the lower skills and the progression
from the lower levels, or progression opportunities, are not being
particularly well addressed. And I think that the new GCSEs in
engineering, manufacturing, will go a long way to address that,
it will give 14 to 16 year olds some real idea about what engineering
is about, and I think, sadly, they lack that when they come into
colleges at 16, they do not really have much of a handle on what
it is about.
66. How relevant to you, or to the students
that you want to attract, do you think the new applied science
GCSE curriculum will be?
(Mr Salmon) I thought a question like this might crop
up, so I went and asked someone, but I asked them about engineering
and not applied science; I do not have applied science in mind.
I think it would be the same response that I got from the students,
and that they would have found it extremely useful in helping
them to decide on a career, providing that they had proper and
sufficient career advice early enough, and a lot of them thought
that at age 14 that was too late, they had already decided on
their GCSEs by that stage. But also I asked some 16 year old students
about the possibility of doing so-called vocational qualifications
and then changing their mind, and, surprisingly, they said that,
well, they are very good life skills, they would not mind doing
that, they would not mind doing the science-based GCSEs as part
of the course.
(Ms Wright) About the progression, I thinkfrom
the group that were here earlier, I heard them saying as well
there is this progression issue, and, as they pointed out, I think
both on the science and on the engineering fields, because it
does not necessarily link up with the next bit, because at part
one you got a foundation stage and an intermediate stage, you
had got quite different kids doing those sorts of things and shifting
in different ways, and they can connect up with the next level.
The difficulty, as the previous group said, is that you cannot
do that, because to go on to the next step you are looking at
a full A level thing there, and with the engineering one it does
not actually connect up with the next stage up in engineering
qualification either. With the science one, I have heard people
say it is a bit too narrow as well; it is just narrow. I think
that is perhaps the trouble, that they are not looking; the vocation
things could be fantastic. There is what I call the hybrid version
that QCA are now doing, which is, you have got your core of science
for real citizenship understanding and then you have got the academic
strand and the vocational strand, and if those could actually
intermixI know that is terribly difficult, in terms of
assessment, and so onthat is where the real opportunity
for ladders and bridges for everybody would come, and I can see
Geraldine Smith: Can I just come in there. Obviously,
the fall in young people studying engineering at university, the
13 per cent decrease between 1995 and 2000, can it be traced back
to the curriculum and the assessment at schools, or are there
other things as well? You mentioned careers advice that young
people are given, and maybe the image of engineering as well,
maybe young people have the wrong image, they do not realise that
there are very well paid jobs, very good opportunities; it seems
a bit boring maybe at times to a young person; it can have that
appearance. Or is it just that the curriculum is wrong, that there
is more you can do?
67. I am sure you all want to answer, but could
one of you try to do it, because we have two other subject areas,
and I know there is going to be a vote shortly; so who is going
to give us the hard line?
(Mr Shearman) Can I say, I think we are all falling
over ourselves to tell you about the problems that there are with
the image of engineering. But I will confine myself to saying
that I do not think that young people, or indeed a lot of non-young
people as well, realise the range of opportunities that there
are in engineering; it is often very narrowly associated with
manufacturing industry, which has been seen to be in rather sharp
decline at various times in the last quarter of a century, if
not longer. I do not think people realise that the range of opportunities
that there are, and the fact that things like the Health Service,
our transport services, all our energy generation, all our construction
industry, and all kinds of things, both in this country and across
the world, depend on engineering services and the intervention
of engineers. And I think that, if more could be done to bring
that to the attention of young people, then it would have a much
greater effect than tinkering with aspects of the curriculum or
aspects of qualifications.
68. I think perhaps you have really begun to
answer my question, but I am particularly interested in the gender
differences that exist between people who study science and technology
and engineering subjects, and I was wondering how you thought
that we might encourage girls to study science and technology,
engineering subjects. I suspect your answer would not be tweaking
(Mr Shearman) No.
(Ms Wright) It depends how you look at the curriculum.
I was quite interested in the earlier answer, that if you look
at curriculum in its wider sense, it is to do with teaching styles,
it is to do with learning styles, it is not just about the content,
so if you look at it and you look at it as a whole-school ethos,
as what happens in schools and what goes on, it can make a real
difference. There was a time when all subject areas really were
looking very closely at everything they taught, how they taught
it, how many girls they asked questions, how many boys they asked
questions, all that stuff; for about ten, 12 years now, they have
not had time to do that. There was a time when things were getting
really hot, if you look at curriculum in the sense of teacher-training,
professional development, and all that stuff, as well.
(Mrs Giles) I think you said right at the start what
has been the influence of the engineering bodies in the curriculum,
and I am harking back to electronics again, but I think there
has been an influence there. Many years ago, the Microelectronics
For All project, which was supporting electronics in the science
curriculum, placed electronics in context, and that was very successful
in drawing all kinds of young people, I think, into an interest
in that area of the curriculum, and the opportunity to engage
in things that mattered to them, and actually to see how the electronics
could solve the sorts of problems that young people were interested
in; and that is certainly the ethos which can be delivered through
design and technology. And, from my personal experience, as a
former teacher in a girls' school teaching technology, that was
something that was very inspirational to young women, because
it gave them confidence that they had got something to contribute
in an area of technology which is largely hidden, seems very clever,
seems very out of the context of a young person, and they are
not confident normally that they have got something that they
can contribute in that area. But I think the difficulty for many
schools is the lack, just as we have been hearing from the science
community, that often technology and science are taught in conditions
that are old-fashioned, perhaps not with very good equipment,
and perhaps with teachers that have not had the advantage of sufficient
professional development in those newer technology areas which
are going to be more inspirational to young people because they
can see the future for that.
69. Can I say, I am particularly interested
in girls, because all the factors you have described apply equally
to males and females, do they not?
(Mrs Giles) Yes. I think it was touched on, again,
by the scientists, that I think engineering traditionally has
attracted young men who are interested in the technical aspects,
and they will go through on that and continue with that, because
of their perhaps rather narrow interest in the technology aspects
of it. I think girls tend to be put off more easily and need to
have their confidence built that they have got something to contribute;
and, therefore, the first-hand experience of having solved problems,
particularly in the newer technologies, actually is very beneficial
in giving them confidence to go forward actually to participate
in that area as a career.
(Mr Salmon) Perhaps I could follow up on that one.
The Green Paper quite clearly calls for much closer collaboration
between schools, colleges of FE and industry, and for some years
now there has been a scheme called WISE, which I am sure you are
aware of, Women into Science and Engineering, and they do a schools
event, and we have been participating in this for about four years,
and this is targeted directly at 14 to 16 year old girls, who
come into the colleges for three days. During that time they are
introduced to women role models, including the only woman Engineer
of the Year, they are taken on industrial visits to local companies,
to have a look round, and they complete an engineering project,
which, in our case, is the electronics one, which we conduct in
an Electronics Centre of Excellence, which has spent £3 million
on creating a surface mount technology unit in there; it really
is state of the art. They get a better look at engineering than
most of our students, they get certainly more use of the technology
centre, and it is a very, very positive thing to do. One of the
companies that we take them to visit is a chemical engineering
company, so they get a look at a different type of engineering;
and we follow that up with a mentoring scheme, which involves
undergraduates from the university, students from the college,
and the girls, and mentors from industry; and currently there
are about 100 girls involved in it. It is a very, very successful
scheme. And, when we talk about collaboration between schools
and colleges, that is what I have in mind, more of that.
(Mr Lucas) Chairman, there are several initiatives
like that which has just been described, such as the Engineering
Education Scheme, which builds on the curriculum, uses the curriculum
to have projects working with industry. And that is one reason,
I think, why we went for trying to make the science curriculum
very much more related to real life and practical activities,
because then one can apply scientific techniques to real problems
that are being faced by industry, to give 15, 16 year olds the
opportunity of practising their science. But, as has been mentioned,
and we have just heard a good example, some colleges and some
schools really are quite good and they do make the effort and
can achieve things and do have a lot of women going into engineering;
it is disproportionate, it is very variable across the country.
And I think the application of the Standards Fund, which I think
might have been mentioned earlier, is an important element of
this, and the delegation of the Standards Fund to schools; schools
can be encouraged to work together in clusters to be able to share
good practice in this area, in the same way that colleges, under
the FEFC, and now the LSC Standards Fund; there is indeed a dissemination
of good practice for engineering and construction, as to where
the sorts of examples that we have been hearing about are shared
amongst those colleges who are not following this. And this is
funded by the Government to the tune of getting on for £100
million altogether, the Standards Fund, in order to be able to
not just raise standards overall but try to encourage, and have
met with some success in getting more women interested and involved
and succeeding on engineering courses.
70. Is there any difference in all-girls schools
from mixed-sex schools; have you any evidence to suggest girls
might do better from single-sex schools, as such?
(Ms Wright) There is some evidence, going back, and
a woman called Pat Mahony did some quite interesting research
into difficulty; it turns out that it is better for girls, but,
boys' schools, it is not so good for boys, so, consequently, you
Dr Iddon: I was just wondering about these closer
links between FE and schools, and you have just mentioned the
Learning and Skills Council; will the separation of the control
of schools and FE colleges, which used to be under local authority
control, cause you some difficulties, or do you think the two
can work together and there will not be a gulf existing?
Chairman: I will ask Parmjit Dhanda; you might
have something in that area to ask.
71. Yes. Do you want to come in first?
(Mr Shearman) Yes, and then I will probably leave
it to one of my colleagues to say some more. I think the signs
are now that, in the light of what has been said in the Green
Paper, and so on, that, at any rate, at 14 to 19, that divorce
may be being reversed, to a certain extentor at least that
appears to be the thrust of what the Government is aiming to do.
But I do think, at the moment, undoubtedly, the fact that different
funding streams exist is a major problem, and the fact that there
are different structures, LEA, LSC, and so on, can create problems,
but one is, for the time being, taking at face value the Government's
statement in the Green Paper that it aims to try to minimise these.
Mr Dhanda: I was just going to say, on that,
it is interesting that you mention that there are different structures
at work here, but it is important that you have actually mentioned
the role that FE plays, and its role also within the Green Paper.
Is there anything else that we can do, as a Committee, or that
you can do, to make it less patchy, because you talked about examples
of where FE has worked really well, in terms of linking in with
high schools, the secondary schools; is there more that can be
done, or is there anything else that we can do to help improve.
72. Mr Lucas, are you going to tell us?
(Mr Lucas) I was going to say that I think there is
a great deal of potential, if the Learning and Skills Council
are taking responsibility for all post-16 funding in both schools
and colleges, and with the remit that has been placed on the Learning
and Skills Council to be more proactive in what their funding
institutions are going to do; rather than just funding what the
institutions want, they can assess whether or not that is going
to meet local needs, be it industry's needs or, indeed, the students'
needs as a whole. And I hope that, by being proactive, it will
drive the institutions together, it will identify where there
are shortages, and be able to boost the effort there, be able
to put the Standards Fund money where it is needed to raise standards,
but also, in those institutions which have got good practice,
to be able to encourage them to share it with others. And, as
I said, the FE sector has got a very good project in place, which
has been very effective in disseminating good practice between
its institutions, and now working with schools; and I think any
endorsement of that sort of activity, which was actually noted
in the Standards Fund for the LSC, the one area of activity which
was identified as a model of good practice was the engineering
dissemination of good practice programme, and that was linking
with regard to management of the curriculum and the contents of
the curriculum within the colleges, and hence going back again
to what science and mathematics can offer to those who are going
to be embarking on an engineering career.
73. We have done it perfectly, as you would
with people with a scientific training. Can I thank you very much
indeed for your enthusiasm and the way you have answered a lot
of questions covering a wide area; that will be very, very helpful
in our inquiry, and has focused us very much today. Thank you
very much for your time and your discipline in keeping it going.
Thank you very much indeed.
(Mr Kirby) Thank you for the opportunity, Chairman.
Chairman: Thank you.