Hale the crusader

Hale the crusader

A campaign to promote ‘design and technology’ as a core subject in education is being led by West Midlands industrialist Martyn Hale. Sandy Simpson reports

What’s the connection between Sir James Dyson, of vacuum cleaner fame, Adrian Newey, head of F1 racing team Red Bull, and Professor Dame Julia King, vice chancellor of Aston University?

All three have pledged support to industrialist Martyn Hale’s campaign aimed at keeping design and technology to the fore of everything that is taught in schools, colleges and universities. Hale began his campaign when his company sponsored the 2011 conference of the National Association of Advisers and Inspectors in Design and Technology.

The campaign stems from his role as chairman of HME Technology, based in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, a market leader in the manufacture of design and technology and science equipment in schools. But his passion for design and technology has long since outstripped what might be seen as a vested commercial interest. So much so that he has this year offered The Imagineering Foundation, which runs engineering clubs for young people aged eight to 16, an operating base at HME Technology’s offices on the Saxon Business Park.

It’s all part of his desire to keep design and technology not only on the school curriculum – more of that later – but also at the forefront of young people’s minds as they work their way through the education system.Martyn says: “We are now the operating arm of Imagineering where we service the primary school market of ‘in and after’ school lessons. Volunteers, often retired engineers, work with schools weekly throughout the academic year, building models and having fun in the process.

“The Foundation has been a fantastic success story, much of it down to David Yates, founder of the Imagineering clubs, and chairman Bob Shanks’ pioneering work. We are thrilled that even closer links between our two organisations are now in place.”

Bob Shanks says: “Martyn and the team are passionate about engineering and education. Both parties were actively involved in promoting and securing a more robust curriculum for design and technology in which they secured the support of Sir Peter Luff MP – that was key to a subsequent successful meeting with Elizabeth Truss, Minister for Education and Childcare, in July 2013. While physics and mathematics capability is crucial for engineers, it is the ‘hands-on’ experience, or ‘learning by doing’, that is far more likely to capture the interest of the young, especially those still at school.”

The Foundation was formed in 1999 by a group of West Midlands engineers who were concerned about a dramatic and worrying lack of interest among youngsters in engineering and technology as a future career. It was launched as an educational charity two years later. Highly active, it organises around 145 engineering clubs across the UK. Currently it is receiving enquiries about the scheme from as far away as Australia and continental Europe. Each week around 2,000 children take part.

But its work could have been for naught if some of the civil servants around Education Minister Michael Gove had had their way. Only three years ago, as the UK economy was starting to pick up again on the back of a manufacturing revival, an ‘expert advisory panel’ recommended that design and technology should no longer be a compulsory element of the national curriculum. In 2011 and through 2012, Martyn Hale worked assiduously to lobby local MPs including Bromsgrove MP Sajid Javid, Worcester MP Sir Peter Luff and also Nadhim Zahawi, MP for Stratford-upon-Avon, the constituency for Martyn’s home in Mappleborough Green.

But he also took his campaign to the heart of Government, and the likes of Matthew Hancock, Minister for Skills and Enterprise, and Elisabeth Truss, Minister for Education and Childcare, were left in no doubt as to how strongly he felt that design and technology should not only be on the national curriculum but at the very heart of the education process.

During the campaign he cited a Local Government Association (LGA) report that showed that in 2011 more than 94,000 people completed hair and beauty courses, despite there being just 18,000 new jobs in the sector, meaning there were five qualified people for every job. “More than double the number of people were trained to work in hospitality, sport and leisure than there were jobs advertised,” he says. “The LGA report said that as many as 17% of job vacancies in England were now directly attributable to skills shortages.”

As the campaign strengthened, more influencers got involved, including: Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore and Lord Digby Jones of Birmingham, the former CBI Director General. As 2013 progressed, it became clear that the campaign had reached those that mattered as the Department of Education agreed to strengthen the position of design and technology content on the national curriculum. It is still not where he would like it to be – it remains as an ‘option’ subject whereas Martyn would like it to be a ‘compulsory’ subject – but he sees the latest position as a step in the right direction.

“The Chancellor called the last Budget one for ‘makers and doers’ and this emphasises the need for more engineers,” he says. But he’s still concerned that design and technology is among as many as 18 ‘options’ from which children can chose. “The challenge isn’t over yet.

The ministers Matthew Hancock and Elizabeth Truss have not yet fully understood that design and technology needs to be a core subject, not an option, and they are surrounded by civil servants more concerned with designing measuring sticks such as the so-called ‘Progress 8’ which is meaningless to the layman – and probably intentionally so – rather than focusing on what is essential for the economy. Namely, that is producing young people with the skills actually required in the workplace, rather than a degree in history or geography, worthy though those may seem.”

Martyn is still concerned that the Government’s approach to GCSEs fails to reflect the world of work, and that design and technology risks being marginalised. The Government denies this, but it can be assured of hearing more on the subject from Martyn. Subject selection is currently taking place in schools with the new curriculum introduced through 2015/16, and he wants design and technology to replace geography and history under the banner of ‘humanities’ in the core tier. He said the thought of the UK being anywhere but at the cutting edge of scientific and technological development “doesn’t bear thinking about”.

Martyn adds: “This core competence is in our DNA and forms the foundation for our proud and much admired standing in the global marketplace.” And he urges the Government:

“Please don’t take these vital attributes for granted. Retain the subject of design and technology on the secondary school curriculum.”