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Group champions real-world approach to engineering learning

Two members of the Activate Learning group have shaped a research project aimed at attracting more young people into engineering.

UTC Reading and Reading College both feature in the Learning to be an Engineer report, published by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The report, just released, argues that the UK could attract more young people into STEM subjects by focusing less on academic knowledge and more on developing the thought processes and attitudes of engineers.

Staff and students from both UTC Reading and Reading College contributed to the report by providing interviews and case studies.

Introducing the report, Professor Helen Atkinson CBE, Chair of the Education and Skills Committee, writes: “The Academy welcomes this important new report exploring how engineering habits of mind – the thinking characteristics, skills and attributes of engineers – can be integrated into the real world of busy schools and colleges to engage the next generation of engineers.

“This is particularly important now due to the well-documented shortage of engineering skills in the UK.  It is essential we ignite young people’s interest in this exciting, creative profession.”

The report, backed by the Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester, identifies four principles which are most likely to encourage young people to develop a passion for engineering in schools and colleges. These are:

  • A clear understanding of engineering habits of mind by teachers and learners
  • The creation of a culture in which these habits flourish
  • Selection of the best teaching and learning methods
  • An active engagement with learners as young engineers

UTC Reading, the UK’s first UTC to be rated outstanding across all areas by Ofsted, features as a case study in the report. The report notes: “The school’s links with employers feature in a number of sophisticated models. Industry partners contribute to whole-school core projects. The employer’s staff act as mentors to students. Employers also design and co-teach the curriculum units with teachers.”

Reading College’s practical approaches to teaching and learning also feature. The report notes: “Lecturers embedded engineering habits of mind through teaching strategies including presenting stories of engineering heroes who overcame challenges; designing an employer-led project to cultivate students’ problem-solving; encouraging students to tinker and put components together before receiving theory input and using flash cards to enhance visualisation skills.

“The lecturers’ combination of active learning strategies and real-world contexts proved engaging because learning had a purpose, it was relevant to the engineering workplace and students were working like professional engineers.”

Sally Dicketts CBE, Group Chief Executive of Activate Learning, said: “The Learning to be an engineer report reinforces our group’s Learning Philosophy, which recognises that learners must see the relevance and impact of skills and knowledge, and combine technical skills with emotional intelligence, to be successful. We are pleased to have contributed to this significant piece of research, which provides schools and colleges with a new framework upon which to attract more young people into this exciting career pathway.”

  • Active Learning
  • Microsoft
  • Cisco
  • University of Reading
  • Network Rail
  • Peter Brett