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Gatwick Airport hosts LEGO® robotics tournament for local schools



For the fourth consecutive year, Gatwick Airport hosted the Sussex and Surrey FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL) regional tournament, which saw teams of students from seven schools in the region compete to build LEGO® robots.

FIRST® LEGO® League is an international robotics-based competition, which the airport has partnered, to excite young people aged 9 to 16 years about Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). FLL is a collaboration between FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) and LEGO®. It started in the USA in 1998 with 210 teams and has now grown to a global competition with 30,000 teams involving more than half a million young people.

The event took place took place in the Sofitel Hotel, North Terminal, and was attended by 10 students from each school. The roboteers had up to 10 weeks before the tournament to build and program their robots around this year’s ‘Hydrodynamics’ theme – use, transportation and disposal of water – before putting them through their paces to complete a set of missions on the thematic play surface.

The judging panel, which included members of Gatwick staff, chose Reigate St Mary’s School as the overall winners, who will go through to the FLL UK and Ireland Final, held at the University of West England. The winners of the National Finals will then represent the UK and Ireland at an international championship in either USA, Hungary or Estonia.

The event partnership forms part of Gatwick’s Community Engagement ‘Inform, Inspire, Invest’ education strategy, including  partnerships with other STEM initiatives, such as the Big Bang Fair and Learn Live broadcasts.

The airport is also supporting the Government’s national ‘Year of Engineering 2018’ campaign, which launches today, and is celebrating engineering and helping to raise its status as an aspirational career path among young people, their parents and teachers.

Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick’s Chief Operations Officer, said:

“Gatwick is proud to have once again hosted the regional FIRST® LEGO® League tournament and thanks all of the schools and their students for participating. With a background in engineering myself, I was extremely impressed by the standard of entries and the high level of enthusiasm with which the teams approached the competition.

“Our objective as an airport is to inform the next generation of young people about the wide range of jobs that STEM skills are needed for, and help to build a pipeline of talent for the future.” 

Mandy Workman, Education Manager at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) said:

“FIRST® LEGO® League is a great competition because it develops the skills needed in our future engineers such as problem-solving, critical thinking, communication and teamwork. It really inspires students and makes STEM subjects so much fun!” 

Jo Mckinney-Green, Operations Manager, STEM Sussex, University of Brighton, said:

The day is always such an action-packed and vibrant event and it is a pleasure to be involved each year. It is incredibly rewarding to see the young people taking part with great enthusiasm and talent and we are delighted that it has such a positive impact on them in terms of their immediate studies and on their future ideas and aspirations.”

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Michael Ferry: Education – It’s more than just good grades

Headteacher at St Wilfrid’s Catholic School, Michael Ferry on the price of education and how funding impacts schools.



Michael Ferry, Headteacher at St Wilfrid's Catholic School

Let me first start by asking the question, “What is Education?”.

Is it purely the pursuit of academic excellence or is it more than that? We live in a society that has to measure everything and in the realms of education it is quite easy to find things to measure. Take for instance the % of students in a school who achieve a Grade 4 or better in English and Maths. That’s an easy measurement to make and allows parents to make direct comparisons between schools; dead easy, yes? Well actually, no it isn’t as simple as that. When you start comparing these types of attainment data, you are only comparing the “end results” and what you can’t compare is the level of progress being made in different schools.

More news: Public consultation on proposed plans to expand Manor Green Primary School

Even when you compare progress, it isn’t simple and straight forward as progress measures, as they currently stand, offer no context to the way in which they have been achieved, but as a society we like to measure things and as such we have seen the evolvement of education league tables.

Now let me put my cards on the table here; in my opinion the only place for league tables is in football (or any other sport to be honest); they have no place in education. The reason for this is the fact that schools do so much more than prepare students to sit exams; schools seek to celebrate each child’s uniqueness by recognizing their talents and working with them, and crucially their parents, to help them develop into young men and women of integrity who can enter adult society and make a positive contribution; to be frank, to make them better human beings. Therein lies the problem with league tables.

So, how do schools do the “unmeasurable”? They seek to employ the highest calibre of staff, both teaching and non-teaching; staff who have a passion for working with young people and will constantly go the extra mile for the students in their charge.

Presently in West Sussex, as well as in other Local Authority areas across England, there is a recruitment crisis in the teaching profession making it harder to deliver those life changing opportunities and experiences which can have a huge impact on the children of this country.

The recruitment crisis is compounded by the current funding situation that education is currently experiencing. We have been told regularly over the last 3 years that there “is more money in education than ever before” and more recently that “record levels” of funding are in education. In fact, this mantra was repeated on numerous occasions in the days preceding the protest by over 2,000 Headteachers on 28th September, when a letter was delivered to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Right Honorable Phillip Hammond, urging him to invest more in education funding.

Subsequently, we have now seen that following an investigation over alleged deliberate misuse of financial data, the DfE has been officially reprimanded [Click here]. Still, the campaign for fairer funding continues, buy why is it important?

Crucially, fewer and fewer schools are now able to offer as much support to children than they were in the past. Trained counsellors in schools are few and far between, Education Psychologists; Speech & Language Therapists, likewise and in broad terms, most secondary schools that I am aware of have seen a reduction in the number of Pastoral staff. This, compounded, by the fact that the number of teachers in secondary schools has reduced over the years means that although there is more work to do due to changes in exams and in accountability measures, there are less staff to do it!

It’s not surprising then that opportunities are being reduced from both within the curriculum and from outside of it. In essence, schools are being forced to plough their limited resources into the basics, the teaching of subjects so that students can pass exams.

Is that what we want as a society? I don’t think it is. Yes, getting good grades is important as it allows school leavers to access opportunities and further their ambitions once they have left school but what about the tools which prepare students for later life; the development of a moral purpose; the desire to tackle social injustice; to be tolerant; inclusive; to be loving and kind; in essence to be a better human being?

As the debate continues over funding in education, we really do need to think carefully about what we want our society to look like. If we get it wrong now, we will be blamed for generations to come!

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