TROUBLES IN the teaching profession are hampering attempts by the ICE to nurture the next generation of engineers.
This was evident at an engineering competition for schools in Bedfordshire last week, organised by the Chilterns local association and attended by ICE President Mark Whitby.
Though the projects put forward were stunning, ranging from dramatic footbridges to railway stations with 'kiss 'n' drop off' areas, just nine teams entered.
Developing projects for the competition is usually carried out in teachers' and pupils' spare time. Though some schools have managed to integrate the competition brief into existing design and technology syllabuses, 'every year many schools have to drop out due to staff changes and sheer workload', said association past chairman, Ralph Friend.
This is despite huge interest in and support of the competition from teachers, Friend added.
Teachers are also pulling out of such external events because of a Health & Safety Executive ruling that puts full responsibility for the roadworthiness of school mini-buses on individual teachers.
'We had to sell our bus this year as it was used so little, ' said Gamlingay Village College teacher, Maria Hope. 'If you can't find enough parents with cars to help then the children lose out.'
For those who were able to attend, however, the competition was fierce.
The winning project from Arnold Middle School tackled a disputed footbridge scheme.
The design was dominated by a towering male figure constructed in galvanised steel, standing in the central reservation forming the pylon supporting suspension cables.
'Their creativity was allied to strong research and obvious effort, and was exactly what we were trying to encourage here, ' said competition judge and member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, Neil Cliff.
Where in the past winners have been awarded books, the four top teams this year won site visits to major engineering projects, the Thames Barrage, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) St Pancras Station site and the CTRL works at Stratford.
The most coveted prize was a trip through the Channel Tunnel.
'This allows the children to see just what an engineer actually does and will hopefully inspire them to continue with their enthusiasm for the subject, ' said Friend.
The finalists also received gifts from Whitby, who stressed that design and technology is an ideal preparation for a career in engineering. 'The skills learnt through this type of work prove more useful in the first year of an engineering degree than physics, ' he enthused.
The event, which is in its seventh year, was organised by the Chilterns association in conjunction with Bedfordshire and Luton education business partnership manager, Carolyn O'Donnell.
The top three entrants will now be taking their designs forward to compete in the Design and Technology Challenge regional championship in July.