STEM Matters: Primary Engineer: STEM by stealth…

05 November 2018

Mark Gradwell, Consultant Editor of EPDT

Regular readers of my #STEMmatters column will be familiar with the fact that there are a whole range of institutions, organisations and initiatives doing good work here in the UK to raise awareness of and promote STEM education and careers – often with their own take, angle or approach. One organisation that has been on my radar for a while, but that I hadn’t yet had an opportunity to connect with directly, was Primary Engineer.

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Earlier this month, in fact, I was lucky enough to attend an inspirational set of presentations hosted by Primary Engineer and its partners to talk about their programmes, including the Leaders Award. Here’s what I found out...

Primary Engineer (alongside its sister programmes, Secondary Engineer and Early Years 
Engineer) is an educational non-profit focused on primary school age programmes, with the following core aims: the development of children and young people through engagement with engineering; the promotion of engineering careers for pupils through inspiring programmes and competitions; the development of engineering skills for teachers and practitioners as a sustainable model; and working to address the gender imbalance in science and engineering.

Recognising that engineering suffers from an awareness and image problem (as well as a gender imbalance), and that teachers are often not well equipped to advise or talk about what it is (particularly at primary school level), Primary Engineer’s programmes aim to engage kids early, working with teachers to upskill their understanding of engineering.

They have developed a ‘STEM by Stealth’ educational approach to bringing engineering and engineers into primary classrooms and curricula, designed to inspire children, pupils and teachers through continued professional development, inclusive whole class project work, and, working with its industry partners, the opportunity to interact directly with real engineers through competitions and exhibitions.

Its programmes enable children and pupils to engage with practical maths and science alongside creative problem solving and literacy, developing cognitive and practical skills in a real world context. They also deliver a positive impact on individual children and pupils’ self-awareness and confidence through team work, and improvement in social skills through engagement with project work and links to the wider world and engineers.

The Leaders Award is its free annual UK-wide competition for children aged from 3 to 19, asking them the question: If you were an engineer – what would you do? Designed to provide an opportunity for children and pupils to interview engineers about their career paths and motivation, it has evolved into a creative problem solving, literacy and entrepreneurial project, which over 37,000 pupils took part in during the 2017/18 competition.

As pupils interview engineers and research engineering in general, they are encouraged to look at the world around them and find problems an engineered solution could solve – and then to design the solution. Alongside their annotated drawings, an accompanying letter is required to persuade engineers to choose their design to build.

Every entry is judged and graded by engineers and educationalists, and shortlisted entries form part of regional public showcases. Winners are presented with trophies at prestigious awards nights – and through links with partner universities, the winning entries actually get made!

Last year’s winning entries included a hydraulic, motorised shopping trolley for the elderly, a bench that flips to ensure a dry seat, an interactive robotic recycling point, a combination suitcase-buggy for travelling parents of small children, and a trampoline that harvests bounce energy to charge electronic devices. And impressively, entries were split almost evenly between boys (51%) and girls (49%) – with 58% of winners coming from the girls!

The 2018/19 competition is kicking off now, with launch events planned in 15 regions around the UK. For more info and to get involved, head to and

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