Sixth formers get a taste for Engineering Science

Since 1997, Oxford University’s Department of Engineering Science has been staging its Headstart course, a residential programme of engineering science activities aimed at sixth formers from all over the UK. For the first time this year, with sponsorship from international construction company, Laing O’Rourke, the Department was able to enhance its Headstart course literature, include visits to construction sites in Oxford and hold a gala dinner at Hertford College.

Headstart 2011 Group PhotoThe Department’s Headstart course also included a number of practical challenges, a design competition, demonstrations, tours of laboratories, team projects, and specialist lectures by academics.  Students met and talked to University staff, postgraduate students and representatives from industry.

Over 2,200 sixth form students applied nationally to Headstart, with 38 attending the Department’s course in Oxford. Students came from a variety of schools; including state, maintained selective and independent schools, further education and sixth form colleges, church high schools, and an international school.

Headstart, part of the Engineering Development Trust, has been established for more than 16 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 Supervisor, Mr Chris Sillitoe, who is responsible for students’ pastoral care said: “It’s a tool for making informed decisions about the next level of education.  The spirit of the course is for students to come out of their comfort zone into a new peer group and work in a new environment.  Headstart provides a taste for team-work, enables new friendships to be formed and enables young people to take on challenges, which is what they’ll be doing as an undergraduate whichever university they go to.

Headstart 2011 In LabAfter his Headstart experience, Ciaran from Luton, said: “It made me reconsider what type of engineering discipline I want to choose.  Prior to this week, I wanted to do Chemical Engineering and now I definitely want to do a general engineering degree – hopefully here at Oxford.

Annarrah who came on this year’s course from Finchley, London, added: “The most memorable part of Headstart was being able to have hands-on experience … I found constructing a bridge really useful.

Headstart volunteer and undergraduate at Keble College, Rebecca Threlfall, said: “I think that engineering is often misunderstood as it is a subject students often don't know much about. Studying Engineering Science is not just about building things - it is about applying often complex scientific ideas to improve lives. This can be equally as theoretical as the 'pure' sciences with which students are familiar. Encouraging young, bright people to enter the world of engineering is essential for the future.

Dr Douglas Hamilton, who has been Course Manager of the Department of Engineering Science’s Headstart courses since 1997, said: ”It is vitally important that we continue running a Headstart course at Oxford, maintaining our place among the top Engineering courses in the country.

Research by Headstart (not by Oxford) 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.

Gala Dinner at Herford College

Headstart 2011 Gala DinnerOne of the highlights this year was the gala dinner at Hertford College, which was made possible for the first time through sponsorship from Laing O’Rourke. The dinner provided sixth formers 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.


The following photo montage gives a taste of this year’s Headstart course.

Our special thanks to Laing O’Rourke, Headstart, 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.