F1 Goes To School To Bridge Engineering Skills Gap

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Government gives thumbs up to F1 in Schools, while Autodesk will provide free CAD software to students

The government hopes the F1 in Schools initiative will encourage children to take an interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects and address the skills shortage facing the UK.

Speaking at the announcement of a new partnership between software developer Autodesk and F1 in Schools, Minister for government policy Oliver Letwin said increased uptake of STEM subjects would ensure the UK keeps up in an increasingly global and competitive market.

“We have to be in a position to compete in that race effectively,” he claimed, adding that he wanted to recreate the romance of 19th century engineering of George Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. “Somewhere along the line, we lost that sense. Engineering became less exciting.”

The romance of engineering

F1 in SchoolsF1 in Schools was founded in 1999 with the aim of increasing interest in STEM subjects through the application of Formula One principles. It has grown from a pilot of project involving eight schools in Wakefield to a global competition contested by 23,000 schools worldwide.

This year’s World finals will take place in Austin, Texas, home of the US Grand Prix, and students must design, create and test miniature compressed-air formula one cars to race at regional and national events to qualify. They are responsible for securing sponsorship and team identities in the same way that Formula One teams are.

Exceptional students can claim scholarships at City University, while others have visited Formula One paddocks and some have claimed engineering jobs at professional Formula One teams, many of whom support the initiative, as does F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

Andrew Denford, Founder and Chairman of F1 in Schools, says the appeal would still be there without the partnership of Formula One, but the sport’s involvement makes it that much more desirable.

He is convinced that one day, a senior member of a Formula One team will have competed in F1 in Schools, which he calls “the world’s most exciting STEM initiative.”

Autodesk software

Central to its success is the availability of computer aided design (CAD) software. In 1999, the government offered free CAD software to schools in the UK, an offer which 4,200 institutions accepted.

F1 in Schools (8)As part of its partnership, Autodesk will provide all partners of F1 in Schools free use of the latest industry design software to use in and out of the classroom. It has called the offer a “significant contribution to education” worth more than £50,000.

“This is the start of a partnership that will not just change education in the UK, but education on a global basis,” claimed Matthew Bell, autodesk education programme manager.

Autodesk Inventor will allow students to create a 3D model of their paper designs for cars, while Autodesk Project Falcon allows them to test the aerodynamics, drag and pressure of their models in real time. Autodesk Showcase is a photorealistic imaging programme that can be used to texture designs, create logos and even scale up models to Formula One standards.

Educational benefit

The suite of software is to be trialled by Team Colossus of Robert May’s School in Hampshire, representatives of which finished third in the World final in Abu Dhabi last year. It hopes the package will give it an edge to go even further next year.

The school’s head of technology Phillip Cain is a firm believer in the scheme, claiming it “kept me in teaching,” adding that it was great for state schools and academies as all of the materials were free and OFSTED have been impressed.

Last week, the government announced the new national curriculum for English schools, which will see ICT replaced win computing across all levels of education from September 2014. Computer science will be at the core of the syllabus, with pupils as young as five being taught programming.

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