All maths and physics teachers should be made to take annual sabbaticals to work in engineering and industry, a leading figure in the sector has said.
The week-long visits would enable the teachers to “sell” careers in engineering to pupils, said Jenny Body, the first female president of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Too many teachers had gone straight into teaching without gaining experience in other sectors, she said. This, the former Airbus engineer asserted, made it hard for them to “truthfully” tell students it was a good career.
“There is good evidence that most people doing engineering or science-based subjects as a career probably have one parent at least or a close relative who’s been in industry," she told TES. "So that’s a challenge, quite a proportion of children will be excluded because they don’t have access to the parents, friends, whatever.
“The next most influential people are the teachers, maybe the most influential. We have a tendency for teachers to have been at school, to go to university and then go back to school again . They are not getting work experience in industry, it’s very very challenging for them.
“It’s not their fault, it’s the system. We need to give them teaching material and experience, so they’ve got the anecdotes, so they can actually say truthfully that engineering and industrial activity is a good career.
“I think at the moment, because they don’t know, they can switch a whole cohort of students off through ignorance really.”
Ms Body spoke out just weeks after teaching unions accused business secretary Vince Cable of being “crass” and “insulting” after saying teachers “know absolutely nothing” about the world of work.
But she insisted she did not want to come over as “teacher bashing” – it was the system that was at fault, not the staff, she said.
Ms Body said she was also keen not to dismiss existing one-off interventions and initiatives, but a more overarching scheme needed to be adopted.
She warned that if more young people were not encouraged into engineering, industry would find itself “in very difficult circumstances” in the next ten years.
“There’s a whole cohort of engineers who will be retiring and the pipeline is rather empty at the moment,” she said.
She said that a more structured system of sabbaticals for teachers need not be “as big a mountain as people might think”, and that it was a question of helping both small and large engineering companies make links to schools.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the idea behind the call for sabbaticals, but said that it was “unrealistic” in the current climate, because of the difficulties and costs of providing cover for classes.
He said: “I absolutely agree with her that we need to raise awareness of young people about these kinds of careers.”
He said the focus should be on growing schemes such as the Education and Employers Taskforce’s Inspiring the Future scheme, where people working in industry gave talks in schools.