June 25, 2008

Winning Formula for Future


TEESSIDE'S process industry has teamed up with a Billingham school to tackle the current skills crisis and unearth the next generation of Isaac Newtons.

The North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC), Johnson Matthey Catalysts and Huntsman Polyurethanes helped St Michael's Roman Catholic School win a pounds 10,000 runner-up prize in this year's Rolls-Royce Science Prize competition, an annual awards programme aimed at equipping young people with the skills to succeed in business.

The judges were impressed with the school's Harnessing Chemicals course, which involved GCSE students undertaking site visits and tackling business-related scenarios with the help of mentors from the three companies.

Peter Sheen, of Johnson Matthey Catalysts' process technologies division, said schemes like this were vital for the future of Britain's science-based industries.

He said: "They help young people understand how chemistry relates to the real world.

"We're a growth business and we won't meet our targets if we don't have enough skilled chemical specialists and engineers."

Leila Elliott, NEPIC's science education unit leader, said the problem could be tackled by targeting students at a young age.

She said: "The scheme taught students the value of transferable skills such as teamwork, communication and problem-solving."

Chris Colclough, specialist school manager at St Michael's, said partnerships between academia and industry were helping to change common misconceptions about the sciences.

She said: "Stereotypically, young people have been turned off by science. There has been a decline in the number of students taking these subjects at A-levels.

"However, initiatives like this demonstrate that science is both creative and a viable career choice."

Developed in consultation with practising teachers and science education advisers, the Science Prize programme has received support from more than 25 of the country's leading education and science- related professional organisations. It is open to every school and college in the UK and Ireland with pupils aged three to 19.

Rolls-Royce chief executive Sir John Rose paid tribute to St Michael's - a science specialist school - for its ability to inspire and stimulate students.

He said: "I'm particularly encouraged that, this year, both the winning school and the runner-up are working with industry to engage young scientists and show them how science can make a practical difference."

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