Whisper it very quietly, but there is something very exciting happening at my school in Luton.
The Bedfordshire town, renowned for its hat making, strong automotive pedigree and international airport, is home to the Chiltern Academy, a free school catering for 1200, 11 to 16-year-olds.
As far as educational establishments go, we like to innovate, not accepting the norm just because everyone else does it that way. Instead, we prefer to take our own approach, focused on delivering the learning experience that young people need.
My background as a former engineer means I am very passionate about creating the industrial talent of the future, so passionate that I have taken the curriculum and pretty much ripped it up, replacing it with a combination of strong ‘engineering’ content, collaborations with local industry and a deep-rooted ambition to simply inspire.
The current D&T based curriculum just does not cut it for me. It is all about designing an end product and does not really explore some of the core skills that go into engineering solutions. Each discipline has its place, but I am concerned about the singular focus on D&T in schools.
In most products, there are more engineers required than industrial designers – our education system needs to reflect this.
So, for me, it is all about engaging them and showcasing how amazing engineering is and the role it plays in our everyday lives.
Our students live in Luton, a town that is synonymous with Vauxhall and strong supply chains that support the automotive and aerospace sectors. Yet ask them if they would like a career in engineering when they start with us and there are not many who enthusiastically say yes.
We need to give them local role models, we need to show them that you can earn six figure salaries from being a world class engineer and we need to give them an insight into technologies, such as additive manufacturing, 5-Axis CNC machining and the latest metrology.
The engineering experience at Chiltern Academy starts in Year 7, with dedicated hourly lessons on different disciplines, new technologies and the softer skills you may need to be successful in industry.
There is a strong commitment to STEM-based programmes, such as Formula Schools and Industrial Cadets, giving young people the chance to test what they are learning in competitions that provide them with new experiences, skills and exposure to potential employers.
Collaboration between education and industry has also got to be better. There is no point moaning that the other one is not doing enough or are too difficult to engage with. We both need to be more open, appreciate where our strengths lie and play to them – after all, the child’s development is key.
One really good example of industry and academia working together is PTC’s decision to give its Onshape Educational plan free of charge to all schools, so that teachers could continue to deliver the best possible learning experience during Covid-19.
We were able to give pupils all the tools they need to create and modify CAD drawings and collaborate on projects in the cloud. Students created accounts quickly and were able to access a platform that is used by industry and thousands of companies across the world, futureproofing their learning in the process. It has been a real gamechanger, especially with the home schooling we have had to undertake during the pandemic.
My final thought is that the government needs to create a central pot of funding that gives every school and college the same opportunity to purchase industry leading software and hardware. It makes such a difference, and it should not be a postcode lottery.
Daniel Pallett, Senior Teacher and Engineering Lead at the Chiltern Academy (part of the Chiltern Learning Trust)