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School pupils step on degree ladder

Neil Hutton reports on Crest, the equivalent of the Duke of Edinburgh scheme for technology and, below, sees a project in action. Crest, which stands for Creativity in Science and Technology, is Europe's largest science and technology award scheme, a way of giving value to partnership between industry and schools and colleges. The project-based scheme is the science, technology and engineering equivalent of the Duke of Edinburgh awards, with some 2, 500 schools from primaries to sixth form colleges registered to take part each year.

Projects range from building a storage box for the 40-hour bronze award to making a movement-activated computer alarm for the 60-hour silver award and removing solvents from a gas stream for the 100-hour gold award.

The bronze, silver and gold awards have now been joined by a platinum version, launched at Imperial College, London in September by Robert Hughes, Parliamentary Secretary of the Office of Public Service and Science.

Gold awards involve the student and teacher linking up with a mentor from industry. The most innovative feature of the new platinum award is the way it links in with higher education. Crest has been successful in gaining a credit rating from the Open University so that students achieving the award will qualify for 15 points in the credit accumulation and transfer scheme (CATS) towards the 360 for a degree.

Students in school sixth forms and colleges will now be able to start on the degree ladder before they go to university. Undergraduates will also be able to follow the Crest route as part of their studies and gain credit for it.

Crest's vision is to stimulate, encourage and excite young people about science, technology and engineering through task-oriented project work. It supports industrycommunity linked projects which draw on students' creativity, perseverance and application of scientific and technological knowledge to solve real challenges. A recent Office for Standards in Education report said Crest created "a desire in students to aspire to work in industry" and fostered "talent for the future".

A wide range of technological activity is covered by the scheme. Zeneca, one of Britain's biggest pharmaceuticalagrochemical companies, is supporting a programme to encourage biotechnology project work in schools. Ford and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders have launched the Automotive Industry Programme, aiming to stimulate interest in the technology of motor vehicles. The drive to get more girls interested in technological careers will be boosted by a programme called GETSET - Girls Entering Tomorrow's Science, Engineering and Technology.

Ian McAllister, managing director of Ford, said: "Ford is concerned by the falling number of young people who are choosing to study science and engineering courses after the age of 16. If we are to meet and exceed the demands which will be placed on our national and manufacturing base as we approach the new millennium, it is imperative that we reverse this trend. " Ford's support for Crest, Mr McAllister said, "is based on the belief that it is performing an important role in promoting this need at the school level. "

Alan West, director of Crest, predicts that 20,000 students will gain awards during the current academic year. The level, subject matter and technological application will be diverse but all will include proof of success in industry-related project work that can be included in a student's record of achievement.

Cleeve School in Cheltenham has used Crest successfully for several years to give students additional accreditation for their work in design and technology. Steve May, a design and technology tutor at the school, said: "The bulk of our awards are at silver level; we use the 50-hour major project required by the exam board as part of the GCSE course.

"Students commence their projects at Easter in Year 10 and continue over three terms. On the whole, the students choose their own problem to solve or find a need that can be developed into a project. We readily appreciate the value of Crest awards and give the scheme our full support."

o For further information on the Crest awards contact the Crest national centre, 1 Frederick Sanger Place, Surrey Research Park, Guildford, Surey GU2 5YD.

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