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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 18:10 GMT
Beckham's boots teaching science
London Eye and Big Ben
Engineering bosses tell MPs of their concern
David Beckham's boots might help with the "urgent" need to halt the decline in teenagers studying science at A-level and in graduates going into science-related careers.

David Beckham
Beckham: Someone youngsters can identify with
Engineering and manufacturing firms have told MPs the decline is "a major concern".

The UK-wide Engineering Employers' Federation and the EMTA training organisation say the government's proposals for revamping 14-19 learning in England could go a long way towards making science in schools more relevant to pupils' lives.

In evidence to the Commons science and technology committee inquiry into science education they welcome the decision in the government's 14-19 education Green Paper to keep science within the core curriculum.

"We support the introduction of an applied science GCSE and the pilot from 2003 of a more innovative and flexible structure for GCSE science," the report says.

Company visits

They agree that "the key to making science teaching relevant to young people is to demonstrate the application of particular scientific principles to situations, products and issues in every day life".

digital radio
Someone has to design and make them
They say this can be done by organising school trips to local companies, using multimedia to demonstrate practical applications, and producing practical project work.

Getting people from industry into schools can also help bring the subject alive, according to the federation's head of education and skills, Ann Bailey.

"It's about making them understand where science fits in today's world - you either need a teacher who understands that or bring in people who can help support the teachers.

"If you can engage the kids, get them really interested in something, some of the issues go away," she said.

Practical examples

One of those issues is the shortage of specialist teachers, which in turn comes from the lack of people pursuing science education - "a vicious circle", as the report puts it.

BBC News engineer at work
Many media jobs are behind the microphones
Girls are the biggest worry, with only about 15% studying science and engineering subjects and 2.2% doing apprenticeships.

Ms Bailey complains at the way media reports reinforce an outdated stereotype of engineering as a dirty, smelly, male environment.

One approach is to present youngsters with real examples from the worlds of fashion or sport - David Beckham's football boots, for example - and get them to consider all the processes involved in their creation.

The submission to MPs also says there is an alarming separation within schools between science subjects and design and technology - a separation which does not exist in industry.

Specialist schools

"It could be much better integrated," Ms Bailey said.

She has high hopes in this respect of the new engineering specialist schools in England - she is heading a consortium which is backing three of them, in Sheffield, Plymouth and Merseyside.

The idea is that, although like all specialists they would teach the full curriculum, engineering would be a thread running through it all.

"Youngsters then, whatever they go on to take, would understand the value of engineering for the economy.

"That's great. They would go away with a much more positive picture of what engineering is about."

See also:

12 Feb 02 | Education
Skills plan is 'economic necessity'
07 Feb 02 | Education
Science initiative for black pupils
16 Jul 01 | Education
'Moral vacuum' in science lessons
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