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Baby, you can design my car

A visit to the Jaguar production line proved to be a catalyst for creative thought as George Cole reports

If the world of engineering still conjures up visions of spanners, noisy workshops and greasy overalls, the West Midlands Engineering and Manufacturing Partnership (WMEMP) could change all that.

The partnership was formed in 2001 to give schools a greater insight into a more modern world of engineering, with computers and robotics equipment in clean-room environments.

WMEMP is supported by Jaguar, Land Rover, LDV and MG Rover and provides a range of services including professional development for teachers, factory visits and sessions at partnership centres. The centres cater for pupils aged 3-19 and offer sessions in many subject areas, including science, maths, geography, art, economics, business studies, IT and creative writing as well as design and technology. A range of students, from mainstream and special educational needs to gifted and talented and disaffected are catered for.

Shannon Moore, manager of Jaguar's education-business partnership centre in Castle Vale, Birmingham, says: "We want to tackle a number of issues facing the automotive industry today, such as students not having the right training or qualifications. We also want to change the perception of engineering and attract a greater diversity of people."

Thirty gifted and talented children from Light Hall School in Solihull recently visited the centres as part of their work on resistant materials.

Half the group went to Jaguar's centre where they toured the production lines of a new Jaguar XJ, which is made from aluminium rather than steel (the other half visited Land Rover). Hilary Gleaves, head of technology at Light Hall, says: "We saw giant presses and spot-welding, and we were surprised to find that the car was glued together. The children also saw how people work together as a team on the production line and how you have less than three minutes to complete your task, before it moves on."

Back at school, the pupils divided into teams, with half building a miniature vehicle out of aluminium while the others created a PowerPoint presentation about the metal.

Hilary Gleaves has no doubt about the programme's value: "It gave us all a new perspective on what engineering is. Everything was so clean and that surprised a lot of students. We also got a lot of ideas from the visit."

When Year 10 Damp;T and graphics students from Newfield School In Sheffield won a CADCAM (computer aided designcomputer aided manufacturing) competition, part of their prize was a visit to Jaguar's partnership centre. The EFF and Open Industry, an initiative designed to give young people the opportunity to experience industry, helped fund the visit.

Around a dozen students went on the trip and saw the production line in action. Andre Fawcett, head of technology from next September, says:

"There's a huge amount of ignorance about engineering and the visit not only helped the students gain a better idea about what is going on, but it helped me too. Lots of new materials are being used these days and it's often hard to find information about them. Thanks to this visit I can talk to my classes about new metals and adhesives. The trip was a great benefit to everyone - pupils and teachers."

Schools in Birmingham and Solihull can book into a free session at a partnership centre through their education business adviser, if it is part of their partnership agreement. Schools from outside the West Midlands are also welcome, although they have to fund their visits. So far, 121 secondary schools and 26 primary schools have visited the Partnership Centres and the aim is to get 27,500 student visits by the end of next year.

As well as automotive companies, the West Midlands Engineering and Manufacturing Partnership includes Birmingham and Solihull Learning Skills Council, the Engineering Employers' Federation (EEF) and Connexions. EEF also provides mentor engineers, who help students gain a greater insight into their work.Email: EEFTel: 020 7222 7777Email:

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