Electronics can be part of the growing number of vocational courses being offered to children aged 14–19.

Stew Edmondson

Wither Electronics at Secondary Schools?

Back in the early eighties when I was at school I was pretty sure that I wanted to be an Engineer – I’d been curious about how things worked from an early age, enjoyed helping my dad with servicing his car and other practical DIY things, and I found Maths and Physics the most interesting subjects at school. I also had an eccentric and very inspiring engineering drawing teacher. So how come I chose Electronics?

In my Lower Sixth year, aside from my A-Level studies, myself and three classmates went one day a week to our local FE college to study O-level Electronics. I loved it! Looking back this was definitely the thing that hooked me and made me want to study Electronics at university.

Fast forward over 30 years and the feedback from a recent poll of UKESF scholars shows that this is still true. Of those who responded around a third had taken either GCSE or A-level Electronics whilst at school. Their comments echoed my own experiences and they were unequivocal that it been a big factor in subsequently choosing to study Electronics at university. For instance they said:

“I did study GCSE Electronics, yes! I think it was probably key to my eventual degree choice.”

“I did Electronic Products at GCSE, and Electronics at AS-level. I think taking electronics at GCSE was probably the most valuable course that I have done in my Electronics career. I think this has a lot to do with the teacher that I had for GCSE who inspired me to follow this career path.”

“I did study electronics at GCSE, which was where my interest and passion for the subject began. If I hadn’t studied electronics at school I probably wouldn’t have even considered it as something that could interest me. I am very thankful that I had the opportunity.”

Figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) show that three exam boards in England and Wales[1] currently offer Electronics at GCSE and A-level. Overall, 903 candidates completed GCSE Electronics in 2015 and 1140 A-level. This is very slightly less that the figures from 2010 (969 GCSE and 1274 A-level). In addition, a further 1789 pupils completed the Edexel GCSE Electronics Products (Design & Technology).

However, things are changing within secondary education and there has been a major review of GCSE and A-levels by the Govt (DfE) and Ofqual. As result, from 2017, many subjects will have a new specification and some examining boards aren’t offering qualifications in many current subjects. Unfortunately for Electronics two of the major exam boards – AQA and OCR – have decided to drop the subject. So, whither Electronics at secondary schools?

Not quite. Whilst, the decision by AQA and OCR is very disappointing, the WJEC (and their English arm, Eduqas) are offering Electronics at GCSE, AS- and A-level beyond 2017.  Therefore, schools in both England and Wales will be able to offer Electronics as part of their curriculum. Also, the new Design & Technology GCSE that will be launched in 2017 will have an Electronics element in the specification.

In Scotland, through the SQA, applied Electronics will continue to be a major part of Technology Studies taught at both Standard and Higher grade in Scottish schools. In Northern Ireland, the CCEA doesn’t have a specific Electronics qualification but it is part of the GCSE Engineering.

Beyond GCSE and A Levels, more schools (and UTCs) are offering vocational course for pupils in KS4 and KS5.

For engineering, a leading qualification is the OCR’s Cambridge National in Engineering. This multi-level qualification includes Electronics systems as one its components. Also, City&Guilds are launching a new Technical Qualification, which is part of the TechBac for 14–19-year-olds. As part of this qualification they have an optional unit covering a specific sector. Currently there are six of them (automotive, rail, marine, civil, power and energy and aerospace). These units have been developed by C&G in collaboration with employer(s) in these sectors. Therefore, why not one for Electronics? What is needed is for employers to step up and work with C&G to develop this.

So, while the opportunities for pupils to study Electronics at GCSE and A-level beyond 2017 will be reduced, as two major examination boards will no longer be offering the subject, others will continue to offer the subject. Also, it will be a core part of the new Design & Technology GCSE. Therefore, all is not quite lost in terms of Electronics being part of the academic curriculum in secondary schools. Furthermore, Electronics can be part of the growing number of vocational courses being offered to children aged 14–19.

[1]               AQA, OCR and WJEC.

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