Bright sunshine is the mother of invention

26th April 1996 at 01:00
Bathers soaking up the rays on the beach at Paignton in Devon, have cause to thank pupils at Paignton Community College. Young engineers there have designed a machine that measures ultra violet light and warns holidaymakers of safe exposure limits.

This sort of innovation has made it School of the Year in the TES Neighbourhood Engineers Award, run by the Engineering Council. This is the second year in a row that Paignton has won. But, not content to rest on its laurels, it now has its sights firmly set on next year's competition: the school's Pounds 1,000 prize money has been ploughed into a new project, an underwater craft complete with cameras and video.

Much of this inventive enthusiasm can be put down to the young engineers club, which was started three years ago by GNVQ co-ordinator Ken Renshaw. The club, which meets at lunchtime and after school, is working on various projects apart from the submarine, including one to build a hot air balloon. "Engineering is a subject that has been neglected in the past," says Mr Renshaw. "But we are helping children here see it in a new light. They are going into real-life situations and recognising it is not about men in overalls with oily rags. "

This sort of focus is an important part of the school's work. The links established by the engineering club have particularly benefited those studying GNVQs.

Mr Renshaw runs a GNVQ course in manufacturing, which has brought invaluable contacts with local companies. He says: "The school is going heavily into vocational education and we are getting closely involved with local industry. Youngsters interested in engineering are meeting engineers working locally. "

The school's headteacher, Trevor Yates, believes that the club is particularly strong because its projects are genuine and pose real problems for students. They learn of the frustrations faced in the workplace as well as an enjoying the rewards. Team work skills are also enhanced.

Building links with local companies like Nortel has many advantages: the school is now doing basic training for the company in information technology.

"The work being done and the recognition it has received has helped establish us in the local community," says Mr Yates. "There are tremendous knock-on effects. People in industry ring asking if we have anybody suitable for jobs. These connections have all been built through work in the engineers club".

Jon Lavin, training manager at Nortel, which makes radio communications equipment, said the company got involved with the school because a lot of its engineers were former pupils.

"The links have grown much stronger recently and they are mutually beneficial. They give the school some insight into how industry is changing and we can see pupils that are interested and might be suitable employees," he says.

Fifty per cent of the company's youth trainee intake comes from the college while others are sponsored at university or taken on under the modern apprenticeship scheme.

St Ivel in Paignton is also working closely with the college and Gill Garner, training and personnel manager, says: "We are finding it difficult to get people who are suitable for us. Many 16-year-olds have no idea about manufacturing, working as a team, or working to certain basic criteria. Having children come in is an advantage."

"It is vital to get children interested in engineering because of the bad press engineering gets," says John Lavin. "We now need to have the most up-to-date skills and youngsters willing to take them on board. We are keen to get involved in the local community and initiatives like the engineers club are a good way of doing it."

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