Unions to oppose schools plan

A group of professional engineering bodies have joined forces to pioneer a new generation of specialist secondary schools.

A group of professional engineering bodies have joined forces to pioneer a new generation of specialist secondary schools, The Engineer can reveal.

In a move that is likely to provoke further condemnation from teaching unions of private sector involvement in public services, the Engineering EmployersFederation, the Engineering and Marine Training Authority and the Royal Academy of Engineering have pledged enough cash to unlock government funding for at least two specialist engineering state schools.

Ann Bailey, head of education and training affairs at the EEF said the group hopes to have worked up proposals for a curriculum in time for the start of the school year in 2002.

‘We are getting together a consortium of people who are interested in engineering in education to develop a test bed of between three and five schools that would specialise in engineering and technology,’ she said.

Measurable targets

The government hopes to have created 1,000 specialist secondary schools by 2003. Under a scheme introduced in the last parliament, all maintained schools which secure £50,000 sponsorship from the private sector and prepare a four-year development plan with measurable targets in teaching and learning in the specialistsubject, can apply for a £100,000 capital grant and £123 per pupil per year, initially for four years.

The government announced 79 new specialist schools last week bringing the total to 684.

The EEF hopes to attract more support for the first engineering schools from other national training organisations such as the Engineering Council, and those representing other manufacturing sectors such as the food and drink industry.Under the EEF plans, engineering will run as a theme through the school alongside the usual curriculum. According to Bailey this will benefit those who want to take vocational qualifications later on and give those who pursue different careers an understanding of the value of engineering to the UK economy.

Those schools which take part are likely to be in areas where there are skills shortages, and the EEF can drum up funding from local companies, said Bailey.’We need to raise about £50,000 for each school, but this is not much if you can get 10 companies involved.’

Lessons from the past

However the plans could run into trouble with teaching unions which are against private sector involvement in the running of public services.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of NASUWT said it was wrong that some schools were gaining more than others, and warned that the union was unlikely to drop its opposition.

‘This is an ongoing debate. If the government could learn one lesson from the past, it should be that there is no point having bright ideas unless you take teachers with you.’

He said that schools should not be used simply to supply industry and commerce with the sort of people they need. ‘That is only part of the job of a school. We fear that this government, like the Tories, is coming to regard schools as mere nurseries for industry. We believe there is more to being alive than just being a worker,’ he said.His comments were echoed by Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers who said the extra funding would create a ‘two-tier’ system. ‘We will be trying to persuade ministers that this new system, which creates an advantage for one out of every five pupils, is not what is needed.’

McAvoy said that, preferably, the profile of engineering and science should be raised in every secondary school – an undertaking that would cost the government about £438m were it to provide extra cash to each school in the state system in similar amounts to those it has earmarked for the specialist schools.