The prize engineers of Devon

Michael Prestage

The importance of convincing pupils that there is more to engineering than a man with an oily rag is being successfully achieved at Teignmouth Community College, Devon, which for the second year running has won The Times Educational Supplement award for teaching excellence through the Neighbourhood Engineers scheme.

The college is no stranger to good engineering, nearby stand some of the works of Isambard Kingdom Brunel: the atmospheric railway from Starcross to Exeter and the Tamar Bridge, Plymouth, are examples. But Steve Beck, head of the technology faculty, wants his students to use their local heritage as a stepping stone to even greater things.

"I want kids moving out of Devon and moving on," he said. "I want them to widen their perspectives and ambitions. To look at modern designers. The work the Italians are doing."

His enthusiasm certainly rubbed off on a group of pupils who arrived last week to complete coursework after school and before the Easter holiday begins.

Alex Lampe's GCSE project to design a new breakfast cereal packet and easter egg package was completed. Another pupil, too shy to give her name, still had some work to do on a device to fix an umbrella to a baby's pushchair to prevent the pusher getting wet.

Two of the most enthusiastic pupils are girls. Michelle Nah and Louise Bell, both 14, have been selected to attend a four-day engineering and technology course run by the Smallpeice Trust Charity. They will be set problem-solving tasks and attend lectures.

Mr Beck said: "It is particularly important that girls see that they have a place in engineering and in workshops. We are getting more students generally and more girls in particular taking part."

The Neighbourhood Engineers scheme links professional engineers to local schools where they contribute to curriculum areas including technology, science, maths and English during a two-year period. As one of two winners Teignmouth, which had the highest mark, was awarded Pounds 1,000 to be spent on equipment. The other winning school was Paignton Community College, also in Devon.

The county figures highly as a winner of the awards. Mr Beck does not believe this is a coincidence, but praises the unstinting efforts of Ted Howarth, the co-ordinator for Neighbourhood Engineers in the South-west.

At Teignmouth, the school panel is chaired by Eric Mackay, a former chairman and managing director of Shell International, now in retirement. His contacts allow pupils to go on visits the latest is to Clarke's shoe factory in Street, Somerset find work experience and try job shadowing.

The school's achievements include a sixth-form management day, a visit by students to the engineering faculty at Plymouth University, a visit from the Women Into Science and Engineering bus to encourage more girls into the industry and an after-school Young Engineers Club.

Headteacher David Clarke, who received his award from TES editor Patricia Rowan at the Secondary Heads Association conference last weekend, said: "It is a very good example of how we can make the curriculum more relevant and also encourage boys and girls to think about getting involved in careers that are not only creative but also wealth generating."

Distinguished commendation prizes of Pounds 500 each were awarded to: Ivybridge Community College, Devon; Pool School and Community College, Cornwall; Tavistock College, Devon; Kingdown School, Wiltshire. Highly commended were: Callington School and Community College, Cornwall; Coombeshead College, Devon; Carisbrooke High School, Isle of Wight; Sidmouth College, Devon; Bishop Reindorp, Surrey.

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Michael Prestage

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