Education Letters: Maths for engineers

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Imperial College has said that it plans to lengthen degrees due to students' weakness in maths. We are most encouraged by the universities who will be welcoming successful advanced diploma graduates in the years to come.

Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Loughborough, Nottingham, Sheffield Hallam, Southampton, and Warwick universities are among those who have said they will accept the diploma in engineering. Indeed Geoff Parks, admissions head for Cambridge University, has said the maths component of the engineering diploma was "significantly better for engineering at university than maths A-level".

Created by a specialist team of engineering and mathematics experts, this component will provide better preparation than existing maths qualifications for those wanting to do an engineering degree. Existing maths qualifications don't expose students to the reality of engineering.

One aim of the diploma in engineering is to increase the number of young people who participate in the engineering life of this country. This is really important because there are significant skills shortages in the sector and the diploma in engineering has a large part to play in enthusing young people about engineering and its role in solving issues faced by society, such as global warming, pollution and poverty.

Graham Lane, Chair of the Diploma in Engineering's Development Partnership

Philip Whiteman, Chief executive of Semta, lead Sector Skills Council for the Diploma in Engineering

Sir Alan Jones, Diploma Employer Champion

FREEDOM FOR TEENAGERS

Alan Smithers is right to remind us that the power of the state has removed the liberty of 16-year-olds to decide whether or not to continue with their formal education ("Home education's time may have come", EDUCATION & CAREERS,19 June 2008). Compelling young people to stay on at school until the age of 18 is a greater infringement of individual liberty than 42 days' detention without charge; something which in practice may never be used.

If 16-year-olds wish to make their way in the world by leaving school at this age, they should be free to do so. They should be applauded for their initiative and guided towards suitable employment. Instead of the relentless expansion of further and higher education that now dominates preparation for adult life, there needs to be a renewed emphasis on the educational value of the workplace. Such are the all round benefits of getting a job it would be sensible to let young people leave school at 15, not 16, if this is what they choose. Provided they can return to studying or training at any time in the future this would be a far better alternative to the unnecessary coercion that has now been planned for them.

Alan Kerr, Bleadon, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

GRADUATE TAX, NOT FEES

Discussion of university finance centres entirely on the future level of fees ("We need a cross-party fees review after 2010", E&C, 12 June). Have we lost sight of how inequitable the system is?

Of course universities need more income; of course graduates who benefit should contribute. However, pay-later fees within a market system will perpetuate and accentuate inequality in our multi-tiered university system and skewed graduate labour market. The penalty for the disadvantaged majority is the length of time it will take them to repay their student debts. Effectively they will pay 40 per cent tax while trying to develop their careers, get on the housing market, start a family, save for retirement and, as part of the working population, pay for the pension and health needs of the burgeoning numbers of senior citizens. For those who get top jobs, recruited mostly from already advantaged backgrounds, repayment will take a few years; for a typical public sector worker such as a teacher, about 15 years; for a graduate working for a modest salary in the voluntary sector or in a depressed region of the country, probably the full 25 years. This is grossly inequitable.

The amount that graduates should contribute to the financing of higher education should depend not on their course fees but on how much they subsequently earn. This can be achieved through a graduate tax, whereby high earning graduates pay absolutely and proportionately more of lifetime income, and less well-paid graduates pay correspondingly less. This should be the issue for the 2009 review.

Lawrence Lockhart, Bath

WHERE IS THE PASSION?

How much more evidence do we need of the negative effects of the government's obsession with testing and results? ("Science teachers suffering "lack of confidence", The Independent, 17 June). Soon after targeting schools not achieving 30 per cent of pupils getting five A*-C grade GCSEs, Ofsted are now complaining of teaching standards in science. The report from Ofsted on the stagnation of science results clearly shows how tests and examinations take precedence over imparting a love of science and awe and wonder at the subject.

When the only measure of success is the exam result, what incentive do teachers have to move beyond the narrow confines of the syllabus and its "official" textbook? What sane teacher would abandon the quest for ever higher results in favour of instilling a passion and understanding for their subject when their job could be on the line if a class under-performs in national tests and examinations?

I believe the exam system is in urgent need of radical reform so that children can be allowed to demonstrate their understanding of scientific concepts and processes through shorter essay style questions and teachers are free to teach inspiring science lessons once more.

James D Williams, Lecturer in Science Education, Sussex School of Education, University of Sussex, Brighton

EASILY IMPRESSED

Your diarist (Diary of a primary school mum, E& C, 19 June) is impressed that she was contacted by Tory spokesman for education Michael Gove after writing to David Cameron. Perhaps she could point out to Gove that education spending more than doubled from £37.3bn in 1997 and £77.7bn in 2007 while retail prices increased by only 38 per cent; that some 1,100 new schools have been built, or old ones rebuilt under Labour; or that there are 36,000 more teachers as well as 172,000 more classroom assistants.

Oh, and your diarist could also mention that the Tories would cut £4.5bn from Labour's Building Schools for the Future programme and refuse to endorse Gordon Brown's plan for state school spending per child to match that found in private schools.

Christopher Clayton, Waverton, Cheshire

Send letters to: The Editor, Education, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS (with a daytime phone number); fax to: 020-7005 2143; email to: education@independent.co.uk; letters may be edited for length and clarity

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