STEM schooling for a world of lifelong training

Education commonly comes before training because it is easier to train those who have been educated but the processes are symbiotic, as in schooling horses.  The `STEM Cohesion Strategy’ which ran from 2009 to 2011 divided the task down into separate bite-sized chunks, intended to raise numbers of entries to A-level maths and to triple science GCSEs.

These failed to win the hearts and minds of schools and teachers and lacked engagement with employers other than through the STEM Ambassadors programme.  They did, however, establish a first-class legacy in a wealth of digital resources, supported by Gatsby Foundation, maintained at the National STEM Centre. But these were little used until Covid because most did not directly relate to the curriculum and its assessment in English schools.

How do we integrate the lessons learned since March 2020 and build on the existing abundance of material to “construct a really cracking educational experience to ensure that lifelong learning is given a first-class send off pre-16.” 

Professor Adrian Oldknow, who has been advising Education Ministers and their Officials since the days of Sir Keith Joseph and Nick Summers. for permission to blog the following has just joined CSTF to help with the all-party follow up to the event on “Making a Reality of Lifelong in the Digital Age” taking place on 3rd October (agenda here and other inputs here). My thanks to Adrian for permission to blog (below) the paper he has drafted to help us get off to a good start.

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I am Adrian Oldknow, and am in my third, but now unpaid, phase of my career. I have just joined the CSTF and also active in the WCIT and the DPA with a particular concern about helping schools across the UK to better prepare their learners with the digital, STEM and 21stC employability (technological for short) skills and experiences which they, employers and the UK economy need for the future.  I  After 30 years working in state secondary schools, FE and HE I became an EdTech consultant to multinational IT companies (including HP, Intel, Promethean, RM, and TI) and to government agencies.  This has given great experiences and a better pension!

The turning point in my career was the `Challenge of the Chip’ in 1978 when Jim Callaghan introduced a £400m program over 3 years (equivalent to £2.5bn today) “to be spent on promoting microchip-aided applications industry, and boosting training and education.”  The New Scientist December 14th reported Callaghan as stating: “The subject of microelectronics is of critical importance to the industrial future of the nation.  We may be on the threshold of the most rapid industrial change in history and we must prepare for it.”  The following May, he lost the election to Margaret Thatcher.  After a short delay, her Government announced its Microelectronics Education Programme MEP with a £8m budget for 1981-4.  I was delighted to receive a letter from Sir Keith Joseph, the Education Secretary at the Department for Education & Science DES, inviting me to join the MEP Advisory Board, chaired by Nick Summers, then an under-Secretary at DES.  I also chaired the MEP’s Mathematics Panel and directed an MEP project on programming BBC micros for maths.

The period from 1981 to 2010 was a great time to be working on IT in education in the UK.  It saw the growth of the `educational super-highways’, and the introduction of technologies such as e-mail, the internet, CADCAM, interactive whiteboards, spreadsheets and, tablets.  It also saw the formation of the Department for Education and Skills DfES, the publication of the Roberts Review `SET for success’ in 2002 and the birth of STEM strategies for education.  In 2003, the DfES published: Fulfilling the Potential – Transforming teaching and learning through ICT in schools.  At the time my pro bono work was for the Mathematical Association, where I chaired its Professional Development and IT Committees.  We had annual meetings of all the teachers’ specialist subject associations with DfES and Becta to agree programs of work to use IT to enhance teaching and learning in each subject in both the primary and the secondary curriculum, to inform teachers of the latest developments in EdTech for their subjects and provide teachers’ CPD – face to face and remotely.  We also had 6 figure budgets to support this work!

The fly-in-the-ointment was the so-called `STEM Cohesion Strategy’ which ran from 2009 to 2011.  It clearly failed to have the desired impact for several reasons. It reduced the problem down into separate bite-sized chunks – enhancement for science, DT, Computing and Maths teaching and enrichment for the science, DT, Computing and Maths curriculum. The main targets were to raise the numbers of entries to A-level maths and to triple science GCSEs.  It also failed to win the hearts and minds of schools and teachers, for whom it was generally seen as a `bolt-on extra’.  Although it was intended to engage school learners with employers and their skills’ needs, it did little to address this in practice other than through the STEM Ambassadors programme.

But it did establish a first-class legacy in the digital resources, supported by Gatsby Foundation, maintained at the National STEM Centre – one of the major sources of support for home-learning during lock-down.  A very large amount of money has been spent by Government and organisations in supporting STEM education, which until Covid has been little used.  The reason is a simple one – much of the treasure trove of resource material does not directly relate to the curriculum and its assessment in English schools.  But there is cause for optimism.  The IT has become cheaper and more powerful.  It took a global catastrophe for schools to be forced to adjust their teaching and learning practices to encompass distance learning remotely.  The trick now is to integrate the lessons learned since March 2020 into constructing a more relevant curriculum which embraces skills as well as subject knowledge.  Fortunately, much of the necessary work has already been done or is in progress.

I was a member of the Becta `New Knowledge Skills’ think-tank in its `Fit for the .Future’ project when Labour lost the General Election in May 2010.  Not only did that work dry up instantly, so did other work through the Becta funding from the Mathematical Association and on advising on `Building Schools for the Future’ project with IT companies.  We formed a working group from the Association for Schools and College Leaders ASCL and the STEM Subject Associations (ASE, ATM, CAS, DATA, MA, NSEAD + YST) which developed the iSTEM+ approach (integrated STEM and more subjects, skills, and people) using cross-curricular practical project-based learning.  In order to develop this further, I was invited to set up a new organisation.  The Cambridge Centre for Innovation in Technological Education CCITE is a member of the Cambridge Ring, with strong links with the University’s Computing Labs, Engineering Department, Faculty of Education, and Mathematics Departments, with links with Cambridge companies like ARM, Autodesk, Aveva, Bluescreen IT, and Microsoft Research, and with organisations such as the CAS Community, the Cambridge Science Centre, the IET, the Micro:bit Educational Foundation, the RAF and the Raspberry Pi Foundation.  One of our early adopters was Gomer Junior School in Gosport which won the TES STEM Team award for 2018 for its gSTEM curriculum and ethos.  Since then Gomer is a founding partner in the Gosport & Fareham MAT GFM, GFM has opened the Gosport STEM Centre in its new Sports Centre, and has launched its own Community Curriculum supported by many local partners as well as its MP, Caroline Dinenage, until recently a DCMS Minister.

Without in any way seeking to underestimate the work required by schools to fully integrate technological education and skills into the curriculum for all learners 5-16, we have an abundance of raw materials from which we can construct a really cracking educational experience to ensure that lifelong learning is given a first-class send off pre-16.  The Prime Minister has set an agenda to level-up skills provision across the UK within which schools have an important part to play.  He has also set an agenda to make the UK a world leader in Science, Technology, and Innovation, which also needs to be reflected in the way young learners are prepared to engage in technological projects, problem-solving and innovation.

The first issue that needs tackling in levelling-up is that of cooperation between the educational authorities in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to harmonise their approaches to technological education and skills in the 5-16 curriculum.  A key issue here is the relevance of the ongoing work of the OECD in this area.  In 2018, the OECD published its first findings on the future of education and skills.

Education can equip learners with agency and a sense of purpose, and the competencies they need, to shape their own lives and contribute to the lives of others. To find out how best to do so, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has launched The Future of Education and Skills 2030 project. The aim of the project is to help countries find answers to two far-reaching questions:

  • What knowledge, skills, attitudes and values will today’s students need to thrive and shape their world?
  • How can instructional systems develop these knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values effectively?”

It may well be the case that the OECD 2030 project could be the basis for an agreed UK policy on technological education and skills.  If so, that would have implications for the balance between terminal examinations and formative assessments of projects.  The DfE published its Corporate Report: Outcome Delivery Plan 2021 to 2022 on 15th July 2021.  In the light of recent Ministerial changes at the DfE, particularly in Schools and Skills, this important document needs a major rethink to incorporate a technological education and skills strand.  An idea currently under discussion is to declare 2022 as the “UK Year of Technology” as a catalyst to have a reformed curriculum in place for next September.

Appendix – some examples of ongoing work on which we can draw. (to be completed)

Royal Academy of Engineering RAEng research on Learning to be an Engineer and Engineering Habits of Mind.  10th Year celebration of the `Connecting STEM Teachers’ CST program.  Possible launch of a new accreditation scheme (with Royal patronage) to encourage `Technology-enhanced STEM Learning Activities’ TeSLA at Key Stages 2, 3 and 4.

Micro:bit Educational Foundation MET.  Support new developments in using BBC micro:bits, MS MakeCode and GeoGebra for data-capture and mathematical modelling as contribution towards improving data science skills at each Key Stage.  Building on recent developments with Royal Society, Geographical Association, MEI, ARM, and the Nuffield Foundation

The Careers & Enterprise Company CEC – extend numbers of schools in Careers Hubs in England.  Similar model for the other three nations?  Support extension to Careers & Technology Hubs as being piloted with Solent LEP.

Ofsted inspection of school curriculum.  Provide help and support to schools transitioning to a core technological education and skills approach.  Work with Head teachers and subject teachers’ associations on guidance and case studies.

Garner support from employers’ organisations such as CBI, TechUK, TechWorks, 5%Club, Enginuity, Tomorrow’s Engineers.




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