Headstart - engaging Sixth Formers and encouraging them into Engineering

This year the Department of Engineering Science ran its 18th Headstart residential course for sixth formers from throughout the UK. The programme included practical problem-solving activities, team projects, industrial site visits, lectures and tours of laboratories and a gala dinner at Hertford College.

Headstart has been established for 18 years as a charitable trust providing hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) activities and engineering taster courses to encourage young people into technology-based careers. It is run under the auspices of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Headstart 2014

Research by Headstart shows that the scheme is very important in helping students decide on their course of study and over 60% tracked through university are reading engineering degree courses. Approximately 86% of participants declare engineering or science-based roles as their first job destination.

Scale replica of Lotus F1 car
Scale replica of F1 Racing Car at Lotus HQ
38 sixth formers attended the Department's course in Oxford this year, and participated in hands-on laboratory sessions, site visits and experienced a taster of college life during their stay at Hertford College. Their site visits included the Lotus F1 Team, Sharp Laboratories of Europe and UKAEA Fusion, Cullham Science Centre, which provided three unique and enthralling experiences for the attendees.

Dr Douglas Hamilton, who has been Course Manager of the Department of Engineering Science’s Headstart courses since 1997, said: “We had 38 students, from all over the country, who quickly got to know each other within an hour or two of arriving and then with great enthusiasm tackled the wide range of engineering-based activities we offered them, including bridge-building, investigating and testing engines, testing a water turbine, robotics, computer-aided design, and building a solar-powered model car. They also had an industrial visit and talks from researchers in the Engineering Department. The overall feeling at the end of the course was of having had a thoroughly interesting time that was great fun as well.

Headstart 2014 Gala DinnerMid week, sixth formers enjoyed a three-course dinner at Hertford College. This provided them with the opportunity to mix socially in historical surroundings, and gain a sense of what life at the University would be like should they decide to study engineering science in Oxford.

The after-dinner speech was given by Professor Zhangfeng Cui who is the Donald Pollock Chair in Chemical Engineering and founder of the  sponsor for this year's event, Oxford MEStar.

After the event Alex Diaper from King Edward VI School, Southampton said of the course: "Headstart has been such an amazing experience that has allowed me to really grasp what studying engineering as an undergraduate at Oxford is really like. From building solar panel robots to sitting in lectures about ultrasound treatment for cancer the opprtunity has really allowed me to appreciate the breadth and possiblity of the field. I have made some amazing friends while here and have had great fun - I am very jealous of all future Headstart pupils!"

Elena Rastorgueva from St Olave's Grammar School, Kent said: "The Headstart course has been an amazing blend of hands-on labwork, inspiring lectures and meeting people from around the country who are just as keen on Maths and Physics as you are. It has been a priceless insight into Engineering which I am very grateful for. The experience of staying at an Oxford college was also unforgettable. many thanks to Headstart and the University of Oxford!"

Our special thanks to Headstart, Oxford MEStar, Lotus F1 Team, Sharp Laboratories of Europe, Culham Science Centre, and Hertford College, as well as to all volunteers, technicians and academics from the Department of Engineering Science who helped to make this year’s Headstart such a huge success!