Teacher shortage could scupper schools plan

UK Government plans to introduce engineering training into schools could prove a flop unless more teachers are found. Hardly rocket science, is it?

Government plans to introduce engineering training into schools could prove a flop unless more teachers are found, leading industry figures warned this week.

EMTA, the national training organisation for engineering manufacture, said almost alltechnical subjects are now suffering from a lack of experiencedteachers, with engineering hit harder than most.

EMTA is in favour of government plans – announced in last week’s education White Paper – to increase the number of schools specialising in areas such as engineering, science and technology. Michael Sanderson, chief executive of EMTA, said the initiative could make a big difference to the image of engineering among schoolchildren, but he warned there may not be enough engineering professionals to teach the subject properly.

‘Engineering facilities in schools are not there any more, and we have lost many technology teachers because there has been nothing for them to teach. Things have been going downhill – a recent report said half of all physics teachers in England have not got an A-Level in the subject.’

Teaching expertise

Specialist schools still teach the national curriculum, but specialise in technology, languages, sports and art, although these subjects are not compulsory for pupils.

This year, engineering, along with science, business and enterprise, mathematics and computing, have been added to the list of specialisms as part of plans to expand the programme.

The White Paper pledges that the number of specialist schools will rise to at least 1,500 by 2005, or 46% of secondary schools.

Schools looking to specialise but not yet ready will be able to apply for ‘working towards’ status and receive support.

Specialist schools should be better off than most general comprehensives, and may be able to offer higher salaries to lure engineers away from industry, said Sanderson. The schools must each raise £50,000 in sponsorship from private firms, which secures them £600,000 in extra capital and grants from the government over four years.

Both EMTA and the Engineering Employers’ Federation also want engineering training bodies and manufacturing firms to form partnerships with local schools to provide much-needed expertise in teaching technology subjects.

Large firms could expand the supply of teachers by allowing their graduate trainees to be seconded to schools, after being given a crash course in teaching, Sanderson said. ‘I think we need to be pragmatic. it takes three or four years to train new teachers, but we might be able to persuade engineering firms to support specialist schools [in this way].’

Once a school has decided to specialise in engineering, the EEF plans to visit manufacturing firms in the area and canvass for their support, said Ann Bailey, EEF head of education and training. ‘Unless firms can provide high-quality work experience and engineering expertise the scheme is not going to work. It is important we locate specialist schools in areas that have that expertise.’

Educational support

Both organisations are developing training support material for schools offering the new vocational engineering GCSEs from next September, and this should also help teachers within specialist schools, she said. ‘We will look at how best to help teachers. If support material is what they need, we will provide it.’

The first engineering specialist schools are expected to begin operating in September 2002. The number of schools teaching the new engineering GCSE – due to be introduced in September 2002 – should reach 400 by 2005, EMTA said this week. Its Workforce Development Plan sets ambitious targets for young people taking up apprenticeships, aiming for a 66% increase by 2005, taking the figure to 10,000.

The report also set targets for a 150% increase in the number of young people from the ethnic minorities, and a 100% rise in the number of girls taking up engineering apprenticeships by 2005.