April 2015


  • Changing Landscape
    The rise of cross-phase, multi-academy trusts (MATs) and the spread of system leadership beyond individual heads are trends rapidly reshaping our educational landscape. ASCL needs to respond to these changes if it is to meet the needs of the next generation for whom these leadership models will be the norm, says Peter Kent. More
  • Taking the next step?
    Headship is potentially as rewarding as it is busy, so don’t let the scale of the job put you off, says Sue Dunford. More
  • What's your vision?
    Emma Knights explores how schools can strengthen their improvement strategies and highlights the central role strong governance has to play in raising standards. More
  • Waiting for the inspector's call
    Many school leaders are doing excellent work in the face of unprecedented pressures but others are struggling to cope, often through no fault of their own, says Peter Campling, whose new play examines the plight of the modern head. More
  • Engineering success
    As the low take-up of STEM subjects continues to be a challenge for the UK economy, David Hermitt explains the steps his school has taken to encourage all students to take an interest in the world of science and technology. More
  • Delivering a clear message
    The incoming government has a golden opportunity to work with the profession to create a world-class education system, says Brian Lightman. But it will need to focus on a few key priorities. More
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As the low take-up of STEM subjects continues to be a challenge for the UK economy, David Hermitt explains the steps his school has taken to encourage all students to take an interest in the world of science and technology.

Engineering success

According to the National STEM Centre, STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – are integral to the country’s success: the UK is the world’s sixth largest manufacturer, engineering turnover is about £800 billion per year, and while the UK makes up only 1 per cent of the world’s population, we produce 10 per cent of the world’s top scientific research.

Despite this, it is remarkable to note that even though STEM graduates have the potential to earn among the highest salaries of all new recruits, employers are fi nding it diffi cult to recruit STEM skilled staff. The latest Confederation of British Industry (CBI)/Pearson survey showed that in 2013 42 per cent of firms faced difficulties recruiting individuals with STEM skills and knowledge.

As one of only 66 specialist engineering schools in the UK, and the only one in Cheshire, it is an issue that Congleton High is keen to address. 

Engineering Achievement Course

As a qualified engineer and former chair of the Specialists Schools Engineering Steering Group, I believe that, alongside the need for a skilled STEM workforce, it is crucial that all young people, regardless of their future career pathway, have the STEM knowledge and skills that they need in order to be an informed citizen in an increasingly scientific and technological society.

This is why all Congleton High School (CHS) students are required to undertake an engineering achievement course, delivered by form tutors and equivalent to two B grade GCSEs. Students gain credits for acquiring skills in problem solving, teamwork and improving their own learning. They use these skills, working with the tutor who knows them best, in fun activities such as running a charity market or building a strong tower out of 10 sheets of newspaper and a metre of sticky tape. The activities take place during the guidance lesson once a fortnight and ultimately students leave school with a qualification in skills that employers need.

Some 87 per cent of the Year 11 students completed the course during tutor guidance lessons, 94 per cent of whom were Year 11 girls.

Strong subject teaching

Strong subject teaching is crucial if we are to create a strong STEM economy and help our students succeed and we have a full complement of specialist teachers in all the STEM subjects. As learners progress they require specialist knowledge to challenge them.

Typically in schools STEM subjects are taught individually, providing young people with the benefit of specialist teaching. However, at Congleton, science and engineering are linked through technology as they are in the real world, which is why we have taken computing into the design and technology curriculum.

One activity we undertake with all pupils, for example, is to design a 3D model and print it out using a 3D printer. It is important to help young people recognise how science, design and technology, computer science, engineering and mathematics can lead to rich and varied career pathways.

STEM and the working world

By reaching outside the classroom and making links with the world of work, Congleton has helped its students relate school STEM subjects to their real-world experiences.

Our specialist engineering status has allowed us to extend opportunities for vocational learning and enrichment for our students through links with our sponsors, local employers, colleges, universities and other organisations, including Bentley Motors, Siemens, the Royal Navy, Berisfords – a local ribbon manufacturer, and The University of Manchester.

Siemens, for example, kindly offers our Key Stage 3 students a tour of the factory, a Women into Engineering network day and a stick bomb challenge for girls. Berisfords kindly funds a design competition and a tour of their site. Others offer specialist training programmes, engineering scholarships and professional support for clubs.

We have generally approached companies and began doing so a number of years ago, usually with a couple of proposals in mind. We were then able to look at ways in which we could both benefi t – a ‘win–win’ situation is always the most successful. Some have also approached us because they have heard about what we are doing via local media.

We are extremely proud of our links and grateful for the support of these partner companies.


One of our most able girls received her apprenticeship qualification in engineering at the age of 16 and went on to complete her work experience at Bentley, who subsequently sponsored her to go to Cambridge, where she achieved a first-class degree in maths. She is now working at Bentley where she is responsible for purchasing and recently came back to Congleton High to lead a session for our Year 8 students on employability skills.


We also encourage our students to compete for the prestigious Arkwright Scholarships, designed to support them through a higher-level apprenticeship or through their A levels and to encourage them to pursue engineering or related areas of design at university.

The Arkwright S Scholarships Trust administers the scheme. Its mission is to identify, inspire and nurture future leaders in engineering and related areas of design by awarding scholarships, through a rigorous and highly competitive selection process to high-calibre students in Year 11. Once selected, scholars receive £600 to support their sixth-form courses and have access via an engineering sponsor to a range of opportunities to learn more about engineering, such as mentoring and company visits.

Last year, 1,430 applicants across the country sat the very challenging aptitude paper with just under half of these progressing to interview and only 410 scholarships being awarded.

Our resident Arkwright scholar, Jayne Booth, has supported students competing in the First Lego League (FLL), an exciting and innovative STEM challenge run by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) for teams of young people and designed to encourage an interest in real-world issues and develop key skills that are crucial for their future careers. In it, students, mentored by Arkwright Scholarship applicants, compete to programme Lego-branded robots.

After-school clubs and activities

Lastly, we have a busy programme of after-school clubs and activities designed to keep our students enthused and focused, including after-school science clubs as well as STEM projects and workshops. In addition, classes are taken to events such as GCSE Science Live! Sheffield, the Salters’ Festival of Chemistry and the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre.

We are currently working on an extensive application to the Design Council and the Design and Technology (D&T) Association for the award of a Design Mark, to gain accreditation for the excellent work undertaken at CHS. This has been a substantial evaluative project, spanning a number of months.


It is part of our whole school ethos that everyone supports and promotes our engineering skills and qualities. Our assistant principal, who has responsibility for overseeing the specialism, leads an induction session for new staff every year, to bring them on board and discuss ways in which they could become involved.

Other staff have responsibility for promoting STEM in their own subject and across the curriculum, overseen by the assistant principal and, of course, by the maths, science and DT curriculum team leaders.

Thinking of STEM as a group of inter-related subjects helps to open doors. Effective and inspiring teachers, sufficiently supported, are vital to raising students’ enjoyment of, enthusiasm for and achievement in STEM subjects.

Effective and inspiring teachers, sufficiently supported, are vital to raising students’ enjoyment of, enthusiasm for, and achievement in STEM subjects.

CUTTING EDGE: 87 per cent of Year 11 students completed an engineering achievement course at Congleton High, of whom 94 per cent were girlsPREVIOUS: Executive Principal David Hermitt meets regularly with students to discuss progress in STEM

David Hermitt is Executive Principal of Congleton High School, an 11-18 specialist school of engineering, and Chief Executive Officer of Congleton Multi-Academy Trust in Congleton, South-East Cheshire