Engineering A level needs to be more creative

Proposals for a new engineering A level have been drawn up to entice more creative pupils and propel the UK from Europe’s bottom spot when it comes to recruiting women engineers.

The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) has spent 18 months alongside industry, higher education and school representatives on a new-look engineering A level.

It aims to bridge the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills gap by shifting the curriculum away from a heavy maths and physics focus. Instead it will aim to capture more creative students interested in art or design and technology.

Dr Rhys Morgan, director of engineering and education at the RAEng, said: “We have to try something different [to meet expected shortfalls of engineers].

“Part of the problem is the [low] number of young people taking physics. We have to look at different ways of attracting people in and developing the necessary scientific knowledge in different ways. We are presenting it as a creative discipline.”

The RAEng has written content, aims and objectives for the proposed A level. Dr Morgan said it has now been taken on by exam board Pearson, who have launched a consultation to assess demand.

The project followed the RAEng report “Thinking like an Engineer” last May. It looked into characteristics engineers need, such as problem solving and systematic thinking.

Dr Morgan added: “We felt the current engineering A level was not meeting the needs of the engineering community and producing the type of skills we are looking for.

“Engineers will be instrumental in addressing global issues such as food shortages, climate change – but the question is how to present this to young people.”

Dr Morgan’s view on highlighting the importance of creativity and problem solving was echoed during the Westminster Higher Education Forum’s “Addressing the STEM Skills Gap” seminar last Wednesday.

Professor John Perkins, former chief scientific advisor for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said the new A level could also include local companies visiting schools to inspire pupils.

A report in 2013 revealed the UK has the worst record in Europe for the recruitment of female engineers. Only eight per cent of engineering professionals in the UK are women, compared to 30 per cent in Latvia, which topped the table.

Professor Perkins said part of the reason was because of a “leakage” from the system at all stages, with many pupils not going on to study STEM at university. He said: “STEM teachers don’t advise pupils to pursue a career in engineering. This is really worrying.”