“Super teacher” puts 25% of his students into engineering degrees

A physics teacher from Sutton has won a £5,000 prize for his school by promoting engineering and sending a quarter of his students into engineering degrees and courses. Will Stirling reports.

Jamie Costello of Sutton Grammar School wins the 2018 DAvid Clark Prize, Sir John O'Reilly presents - image courtesy of Luke Toyer.
Jamie Costello of Sutton Grammar School wins the 2018 DAvid Clark Prize, Sir John O’Reilly presents – image courtesy of Luke Toyer.

Jamie Costello, head of science at Sutton Grammar School, has won a prize organised by the ERA Foundation (ERAF) for his “exemplar performance” in promoting engineering to school students, including running voluntary projects like designing and making an ocean drifter device and founding Sutton’s branch of the Big Bang Fair, an education outreach event.

He was awarded top honours in the ERAF’s David Clark Prize on Wednesday at the foundation’s 15th annual lunch on 9 May, winning in a very tough field that was reduced to a shortlist of three for the first time, making Costello the winner of winners.

Remarkably, in September 2017, 25% of Costello’s students at the “outstanding” Ofsted-ranked school went on to study engineering-related courses.

He commented: “I am absolutely thrilled to win this award from the ERA Foundation.

“I have designed and built high altitude balloons, an ocean drifter, a solar storm detector, and I also run the regional Big Bang Fair for EngineeringUK in Sutton. The next one is on 13 July – which all are invited to, of course.”

The Big Bang Fair franchise he started recorded 1,000 visitors last year and expects the same number in July.

Costello was nominated for the prize by the Smallpeice (sic) Trust for his work for The Arkwright Foundation, which included submitting a 500-word piece on his outreach activities.

The ERA foundation has promoted engineering and “productive industry” in the UK, with an emphasis on excellence in electro technologies, for 15 years since the former Electronic Research Association was sold to engineering group Cobham in 2003.

It also supports projects to stimulate young people into engineering careers.

Chairman Sir John O’Reilly, who also served as director-general of knowledge and innovation at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (2013-2015), said: “One of the Foundation’s awards, the £5,000 David Clark Prize recognises a teacher who has done something exceptional to encourage interest in engineering in schools.

“This year’s winner, Jamie Costello from Sutton Grammar School, has certainly made a huge difference with such a high proportion of school leavers going on to study engineering degrees.”

A new disc factory in Washington, UK, uses a fully digital manufacturing method – image courtesy of Luke Toyer.
A new disc factory in Washington, UK, uses a fully digital manufacturing method – image courtesy of Luke Toyer.

Keynote speaker at the lunch, Warren East, CEO of Rolls-Royce, spoke about the challenges facing complex manufacturing operations and the opportunities provided by digital transformation.

New technologies like photonics, additive manufacturing, contactless measurement and embedded sensors were changing manufacturing, in search of previously unachievable productivity levels.

Laser scanning technology could be used to measure parts with thousands of data points with no contact, he said, removing the need for separate measurement stages, and fibre lasers fitted to robots allowed new welding techniques.

On 3D printing, East said: “There has been a lot of talk about additive manufacturing, it is a useful tool but is no panacea. It can’t be used to effectively replace many processes, but the theory of building up a part instead of wastefully removing large sections makes perfect sense.”

East also noted that digital factories with a lot of autonomous systems were an important in the future of manufacturing, but the concept of “lights out” factories had been around since the 1980s.

The smart technologies were not the only solution and people would still be needed to design and build the systems, and provide services around the products.

He added that despite manufacturing being just 10% of UK GDP, it was very important for Britain to retain big, high-value manufacturing companies for the long term, because their barriers to entry made them more reliable employers and value creators than many digital and software companies that changed ownership and location easily.

More information about previous winners of the David Clark Prize for science teachers can be found here.