STEM moving up a gear in UK primary schools

Recently, The ONS reported that UK manufacturing encountered a poor end to the year which has impacted our GDP. In the UK we are lacking the vital skills to increase our productivity. In particular, the STEM skills gap has been an issue for many years and STEM teaching needs to be prioritised in the UK curriculum to encourage growth in this field.

One of the main issues we have found is a general lack of awareness surrounding the broad range of opportunities STEM skills can offer after education. Raising awareness about the jobs available from a young age will help children aspire to a career they might not have considered or heard of before.

There are a number of ways the manufacturing sector can get involved in helping to address the issue. At Delcam, we're looking to address this by engaging with the Bloodhound and STEM Ambassador programmes. The programmes work to promote the engineering profession with a focus on the country’s young people by sending specially trained ambassadors to local schools. Delcam has been involved with the Bloodhound scheme for the past eighteen months and, earlier this year, three ambassadors visited Harborne Primary School to deliver a special school assembly for 270 students in Years 3 to 6, followed by an interactive Bloodhound activity session for Year 5 students.

The assembly focused on the history of engineering in the UK and also introduced speed as a scientific concept in a way that would be engaging and straightforward for children to understand. Speed, fast cars and specifically powering Bloodhound are topics that children can really get their teeth into. It can be easy to underestimate the student’s level of understanding, but as with every school we’ve visited, the children were keen to get involved and shout suggestions for powering the car.

After the assembly, the Year 5 students were lucky enough to have their own Bloodhound breakout session which involved three classes, totalling 90 students each building their very own version of the Bloodhound car. We explained to the students the principle of harnessing force to drive a car forward. The children were then able to put this into practice by building a Bloodhound-branded cardboard car from scratch with a straw and balloon jet engine. The children were then able to race the cars to see which would go the fastest and furthest. The pupils were eager to modify the cars even further which has inspired the teachers to create follow up activity sessions for the Year 5s. Teachers and pupils alike thoroughly enjoyed the day and there are already plans in motion for a return visit to Harborne Primary School next year.

Initiatives like the STEM Ambassador programme are only the beginning and, at Delcam, we’re also passionate about furthering the opportunities of older students with involvement in apprenticeships and graduate programmes. Specifically, we take in over 28 graduates and undergraduates a year to invest and build the UK talent pool. Schemes such as F1 in Schools are also hugely important in engaging the future workforce.

It is crucial that businesses and educators continue to work together to show students the wide range of STEM-careers that are available, both in manufacturing and in other areas, and ensure the tools and support are available to ignite the passion to create the STEM stars of the future. Getting fresh talent into the manufacturing sector will also support the future of manufacturing, ensuring we are able to incorporate new ways of doing things and tackle productivity issues with innovative solutions, rather than doing things the way we’ve always done them.

Richard Pedley, software engineer, Delcam, part of Autodesk