Education reforms could damage engineering warn MPs

08 February 2013

Government reforms to vocational education and the introduction of the EBac appear to support engineering education but may in fact be detrimental, according to a report published today by the Science and Technology Committee.

Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, Andrew Miller MP, said:

“GCSE subjects such as maths and science are crucial to engineering, but other subjects such as Design and Technology and ICT are also essential.

In the UK we teach young people to become computer users and consumers rather than programmers and software engineers. This is creating a chronic skills gap in ICT.

On the plus side, we welcome the Government’s proposal to include computer science as a fourth science option to count towards the EBac.”

The Committee also welcomes the EBac’s focus on attainment of mathematics and science GCSEs but is concerned that subjects such as Design and Technology (D&T) might be marginalised. A Technical Baccalaureate (TechBac) is being designed and the Committee warns that if the TechBac is to be a success, schools should be incentivised to focus on the TechBac by making it equivalent to the EBac.

Reforms to vocational education following the Wolf Review meant that Level 2 of the Engineering Diploma, a qualification highly regarded by schools, employers and students, would  count as equivalent to one GCSE despite requiring curriculum time and effort equivalent to several GCSEs. The Committee considers that the change potentially sent a poor message from Government about the value of engineering education and may lead to the Diploma being a less attractive qualification to schools. The Engineering Diploma is currently being redesigned as four separate qualifications.

The Committee also expressed concerns over the Department for Education’s (DfE) lack of clarity on its research budget, and use of evidence in decision-making. The DfE needs to place greater focus on gathering evidence before changes to qualifications are made, and must leave sufficient time for evidence to be gathered on the effectiveness of policies before introducing further change.

The possibility of gathering evidence from randomised controlled trials (RCTs) should be seriously considered every time the DfE considers an education policy change.

Andrew Miller MP, added:

“Engineering is crucial to the UK’s economic growth and it is deeply concerning that there is a shortfall in the number of engineers we need. This is likely to get worse unless radical action is taken.

We need around 82,000 engineers and technicians just to deal with retirements up to 2016 and 830,000 SET professionals by 2020. It is vital that we inspire young people to consider engineering careers and have in place an education system that encourages them to pursue those ambitions.

Yesterday’s announcement by the Government to pull back from introducing English Baccalaureate Certificates in 2015 shows yet again the importance of having evidence before policy, rather than policy before evidence.”

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Image: iStockphoto

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