The EEF will next week announce a £150,000 sponsorship deal for three schools hoping to specialise in engineering, But it is likely to face criticism that one of the three is an all-boys school.
The three schools which are applying for specialist status from this September will each receive £40,000-£50,000 in funding from a consortium led by the EEF, which also includes EMTA, the Engineering Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Ann Bailey, head of education and skills at the EEF, defended the selection of Devonport High School for Boys in Plymouth. ‘We spoke to both the Department for Education and Skills and the City Technologies Trust to ask if the school’s selection was going to be a problem, but they felt that given its ties it would not.
The school has strong links with the nearby High School for Girls, and with a number of primary schools in what is a very depressed area of Plymouth.’
Many young people in the area have not traditionally seen engineering as a possible career option, so achieving specialist status should allow the school to broaden their range of opportunities, she said.
The other two schools chosen for sponsorship are Eckington School, Sheffield, and Woodchurch High School in Merseyside. Each was chosen from areas where skills shortages are particularly severe.
Specialist schools are likely to offer the new GCSE and vocational A-level in engineering and a full range of science and technolog-related subjects. This should provide young people with a broad range of opportunities to enter the industry, either through modern apprenticeships, further education or engineering degrees, said Bailey.
‘Whatever the young people study we want them to understand the value of engineering. We are not going to change the profession’s perception unless we improve that understanding at a much earlier age.’
The government hopes to have 1,500 specialist schools by 2005. Each school must raise £50,000 in sponsorship, for which they receive £100,000 funding from the government, and an extra £123 for each pupil for four years.
The three schools applying for sponsorship from the engineering consortium had to demonstrate that they will develop the skills needed by industry and employers, build links with local businesses and share resources and good practice with other schools in the area.
Betty Renshaw, business manager at Woodchurch High School, said success in its bid for specialist status would allow it to develop greater links with local primary and secondary schools, colleges and businesses, in an effort to halt the recent decline in vocational training in this part of the country.
‘The area has a tradition of engineering, particularly through Cammell Laird and the engineering centres of Ford and Vauxhall. But what has been disappearing is the training and apprenticeship programmes,’ she said.