Schools should focus on engineering habits of mind

Most people would agree that the UK needs more engineers. In fact, we’ve needed them for a long time.

Sometime in the years of this century, the acronym Stem was coined as a way of solving this problem. The solution was that we needed to focus on four disciplines – science, technology, engineering and maths – at school and university, and we would be rewarded with a fresh crop of engineers.

But as the civil engineering department at UCL has shown, undergraduates don’t need maths or science at A level to be able to excel in engineering.

What’s more, contrary to this mindset, other subjects are important too. The arts, for example, may have much more to contribute to the makeup of our engineers than first thought.

Many feel we need to get rid of this model to manufacture engineers and look at the habits of mind which engineers have in the real world.

These habits include systems thinking, adapting, problem-finding, creative problem-solving, visualising and improving.

In fact, research carried out by the Financial Times and the Royal Academy of Engineering showed that:


  • Schools need to move away from a Stem/Steam focus and develop a better understanding of the ways engineers think and act

  • Teachers will do better when they use signature teaching and learning methods most suited to cultivating these habits of mind

  • We all need to build teacher capability through professional development to embed these habits into everyday teaching