Even a school fire could not destroy a pupil's ambition to realise his hovercraft design. Harvey McGavin looks at a CBI scheme enthusing young minds with the joys of engineering
A project backed by the Confederation of British Industry to strengthen the profile of product design in schools is building bridges via partnerships with local firms and over the Internet. Manufacturing by Design (MBD), the National Manufacturing Council's flagship school-industry intiative, has already made a big difference to the way design is taught in classrooms, giving free computer-aided design software and in-service training to teachers in 2, 500 schools.
Under the second phase of the four-year-old project, selected schools are training via the Internet, another group are working together on a joint design brief and 12 schools have been selected to take part in MBD's DesignPost project using an advanced version of the original software.
All the schools involved in these projects - sponsors include the software company Computervision, British Aerospace, Rover group and Glaxo Wellcome - will be taking part in MBD's national celebrations on July 9 at the Heritage Motor Centre Museum near Warwick.
MBD's training co-ordinator John Harris says: "We are continuing to expand and making more use of the Internet to link schools together to work on design briefs. We hope young people will get a much more positive view of engineering and manufacturing through being directly involved in a project and visiting a local company. That has been our focus: linking schools to a local company. "
At one school, MBD has helped resurrect an ambitious amphibious scheme. When fire destroyed the hovercraft they had spent months making, pupils at St Joseph's College, Stoke-on-Trent, were understandably upset. But Alec Johnson, then a sixth-former, decided to rebuild a smaller, single-seater version for his technology A-level using the MBD Designview software. His teacher, Neil Hutchinson, says: "It looked a bit like something out of Star Wars, but it was fully functional - a wonderful craft." It helped win Alec a place at Brunel University to study aeronautical engineering. The hovercraft - built with the sponsorship of local companies - has made a star appearance at a school open day and will undergo sea trials this summer.
Neil Hutchinson believes the project has done a lot to make engineering seem like an attractive career option for pupils at the school. "The MBD software has been very useful indeed," he says. "It has provided us with the one thing that schools are always looking for - resources. CAD (computer-aided design) software is very expensive and it also gave us very well prepared teaching support. The teaching pack allowed Alec to learn independently how to use the system to develop shapes and dimensions and to produce animated views of the hovercraft's canopy opening".
Neil Hutchinson believes Alec's success and MBD's resources have encouraged other pupils to take on challenging projects. An illuminated, road-crossing lollipop sign won second prize in a national competition for a 15-year-old who patented the design. "It has made the children think that design is about more than just working with a piece of wood on a bench. They can make things that are quite large and sophisticated. And it has helped us with industrial links: pupils can see the relevance of the academic work to the outside world. "