UK school funding cuts are undermining the quality of science teaching and discouraging students from pursuing careers in science and technology, according to school science technicians. Despite Government pledges to boost science teaching, survey results showed that budget cuts are preventing the purchase of basic equipment and holding pupils back from developing vital skills.
The survey of around 550 science technicians conducted by Preproom.org, an online community for secondary school technicians and commissioned by Dremel, 3D printer manufacturer and Autodesk, the software provider for people who make things, revealed troubling insights into science education:
·88% agreed that a reduction in practical work is harming pupils’ interest in science and technology careers
·64% of schools have suffered from a reduction in budget for practical equipment over the last five years
·77% of science technicians believe a lack of funding for equipment is undermining teaching
Responsible for managing the constant supply of equipment that helps develop vital practical skills and embraces curriculum changes, technicians are keenly aware of the challenges facing science departments.
School funding pressures
Despite last year’s introduction of the national funding formula (NFF), a new system that seeks to iron out budget inequalities, education decision makers have reported they are still facing a major budget crisis, with the average secondary school still making a loss of £178,321 per year.
Funding pressures are having a particularly damaging effect on science and technology departments, with many schools unable to buy or fix basic equipment.
Due to tightening purse strings, technicians estimate that thousands of pounds worth of out-of-date kit is still in use. According to the survey, equipment from the 1960s and 70s is commonly found in school cupboards, other outdated items included:
·An ammeter used to measure the current in a circuit, with a King George VI stamp
Andrew Cluney, UK Brand Manager of Dremel said “These survey results reveal worrying signs that UK schools cannot afford even the most basic of practical equipment.
The use of 3D printers in schools is the ideal introduction to the principles of designing, engineering, and manufacturing. I’m a strong believer that the technology is a key driver in increasing the number of students choosing STEM subjects at higher education and later on at career level.”
Too few schools are taking advantage of 3D printing technology
Dremel’s survey found that 3D printers are far from integrated into the STEM curriculum. Despite Michael Gove pledging to boost the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) through the introduction of 3D printers, less than a third (29%) of technicians confirmed that additive manufacturing was taught within their school.
The survey also revealed that 3D printers are still mainly restricted to Design Technology. One of the biggest challenges that emerged was that many schools (45%) still do not regard 3D printers as a priority and as a result many teachers lack necessary training in the area.
Educational 3D printers in action
Technicians familiar with the technology were more positive about its benefits and were three times as likely to recommend investing in a printer.
Already an established industrial technology for prototyping, the benefits of 3D printers have proven to help pupils create multi-disciplinary links and prepare pupils for jobs in engineering and industry.
Guillermo Melantoni, Product Line Manager, Autodesk, said “Incorporating 3D design and 3D printers into the curriculum helps students develop skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow. From designing in CAD software like Tinkercad to experimenting with rapid prototyping, the ability to model, adapt and develop ideas offers transferrable skills that prepare young people for tomorrow’s Industry 4.0.”