In a massive shake-up of education for 14 to 19 year olds, the government is proposing to introduce a vocational GCSE in engineering and to offer opportunities for work-related study at GCSE and A-level.
The Government's consultation paper, 14-19: extending opportunities, raising standards, says skills shortages make change imperative. 'Half a century ago, at the time of the 1944 Education Act, it was clear that the nation needed to develop better vocational and technical education to meet the needs of a rapidly changing postwar society, ' states the consultation paper. 'Education failed to meet the challenge, though.
'During the last 60 years, the pace of social and economic change has increased dramatically and successive attempts have been made to improve vocational education and raise its standing in society. In practice most of these changes were piecemeal and enjoyed limited or no more than short term success, while a long tradition of apprenticeship training was allowed to go into decline.'
Under the new proposals young people will be able to take GCSE exams in a range of vocational subjects, awarded equal status with traditional academic GCSEs. Vocational subjects will also be on offer at A-level.
Eight new GCSE subjects will be available from September this year if the reforms are approved.
Three, including engineering, will be equivalent to two GCSEs.
The proposals are part of a widespread package of educational reforms designed to increase flexibility and choice for 14 to 19 year olds in the hope that more will stay in full time learning and find courses relevant to their skills and aptitudes. Other plans include the option of missing out GCSEs altogether to concentrate on A-levels, and incorporating extra 'distinction' level questions in both the academic and vocational A-levels.
'We should no longer tolerate a culture that devalues vocational learning and squanders the talent of too many young people, ' said education and skills secretary Estelle Morris, launching the document. 'I want to see a vocational renaissance that captures the imagination of young people and challenges prejudice.'
The consultation paper comes as the construction industry grapples with a debilitating skills crisis. Since 1994, the number of applications for first degree engineering courses in UK universities has fallen by 50% and recruitment to the industry is at an all time low.
In a bid to reverse the situation the Association of Consulting Engineers has been lobbying government for improvements in the way maths and science are taught. Poor or inappropriate teaching is putting children off careers in engineering, believes ACE communications manager Andy Walker. It has also sent a submission to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, ahead of the next Budget, asking for better pay for science and maths teachers and the removal of tuition fees from engineering degree courses.
At the same time, engineering firms are increasingly keen to find staff with business, financial and communication skills. A worrying 45% of respondents to a recent NCE/ACE survey (NCE 17 January) said graduates are leaving university either with bad results or having pursued courses that are of little real value.
And according to job ads, skills most sought in new graduates are problem solving, communication, and logical and tactical decision making. In some quarters of the industry it is suggested GCSE or A-level courses that develop these skills could be as useful as traditional subjects like maths and physics.
'Engineering is seen as too mathematically focused, too difficult and requiring long hours both at university and at work, ' comments ACE chairman Rod MacDonald.
'We should find out what ideas relating to engineering capture the minds of young, creative people. I believe they are attracted to ideas such as designing, energy use, conservation, making and entrepreneurialism.
This is engineering.'
School curriculums should also introduce children to engineering at a far younger age - at between eight to 12 years old, MacDonald believes.
INFOPLUS Skills issues affecting the civil engineering sector will be the subject of three debates at Civils 2002.www. civils.co.uk
Call Sally Devine on (020) 7505 6644 or email sally. devine@construct. emap. com or Russell Kenrick on (020) 7505 6882 fax (020) 7505 6699 or email russell. kenrick@construct. emap. com
If you graduated from a civils course last year, feel proud of your achievements to date and want to go places in the industry, get an NCE Graduate Awards entry form now. Six candidates will be shortlisted for Awards, which are taking place at Civils 2002, 11-13 June, NEC Birmingham. It's going to be a high profile event - there is no better place to win recognition.
And the winner takes home £2,000. Details and entry forms from Joanne Head on (020) 7505 6745 or joanne. head@ construct. emap. com www. nceplus.co.uk