Smart Machines & Factories
Growing future engineers through stealth
Published:  10 August, 2018

Primary Engineer Programmes are taking great strides in helping to grow future engineers and ultimately tapping into the inner-engineer of pupils, the aim – to encourage more students to follow a career in engineering. Susan Scurlock, CEO and Founder of Primary Engineer gives readers an update on how the Primary Engineer programme has developed.

In 2017 the number of schools involved in a Primary Engineer programme, increased by 20% from 593 to 748 schools. That’s more than 150 schools more, at an average of nearly thirteen new schools per month – more than one every three days. There are more teachers involved than ever before – so we are meeting one of our core targets of inspiring teachers to teach engaging STEM projects. In 2017 we had nearly 50% more teachers in the programme taking the number to 2222. That’s an average of six more teachers helping encourage the next generation of engineers, every single day! Our overall student engagement was up 30% over the year too, and we saw a 40% increase the number of engineers involved – over 300 more, taking our total number of engineers involved to 829. I’m sure that includes many readers of Smart Machines & Factories who lent their judgement at the highly successful Leaders’ Awards entry grading days, took part in teacher training at a local school, or hosted a Webex’s on life as an engineer, and I’d like to say thank you to you. If you’re not yet involved but want to be – click through to and find out more.

This year so far, our reach is growing even more. Primary Engineer has inspired over 37,000 children from the ages of 3 – 18 to tap into their creativity and invent through the Primary Engineer and Secondary Engineer Leaders Awards programme in 2018 to date. Working with leading engineering companies from around the UK that recognise the future of engineering is held within this age group, we set about to reach as many pupils’ creative minds as possible, and it’s working.

The Primary Engineer and Secondary Engineer Leaders Awards programme connects teachers and pupils with engineers and engineering businesses from across the UK. This has created the perfect catalyst to shape interest in engineering, steering teachers to identify and work with the creativity in the classroom and reap the rewards of a longer-term bond between education and industry.

For the awards we posed the simple question: “If you were an engineer, what would you do?”. Inventions like The Ball Returner, Easy Bath and Parrot-Guard 2000 all feature in the winning entries, which were chosen by engineers who gave up some of their time to judge the entries at our regional ‘grading days’. Follow us on Instagram for a constant feed of wonderfully inventive solutions to everyday issues, it’s a fantastic source of inspiration! We also inadvertently tapped into the philanthropy that exists in the young - not one of the 37,000 entries cited ‘to make money’ as an objective for their invention. Instead, they each addressed a world issue or a personal issue based on experience. We think this selflessness is just the quality that modern society is looking for to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.

Primary Engineer’s connections with education currently mean that one winning invention per region, per year, can be brought to life by engineering students. One example of this is the Roll-over Bench, which was the brain child of Grace Finlay in 2017. She observed, while walking her dog after a rain storm, that seats in country parks remained wet. Her simple solution was to flip them over. This caught the attention of the judging panel and the University of Strathclyde who set about building a prototype (pictured). This aspect of the Awards is a great motivator for the children to realise their potential from an early age, and for engineering students to gain direct experience of turning a brief into a product.

Our longest running award is the Scottish Engineering Leaders Award. Set up in 2014 in association with Scottish Engineering, it received 15,000 entries in 2018, an increase of around 3000 from the previous year. Running such an competition requires a lot of support from industry and education, but we have no shortage of help. This year, we were proud and grateful to work alongside The University of Strathclyde, Scottish Engineering, the RAF, WEIR Group, Clyde Marine Training, Vascutek, Babcock International Group, Skills Development Scotland, Allied Vehicles, Cloch Solicitors, and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. A who’s-who of Scotland and the UK’s best engineering.

The core tenet of our work is our ‘Stem by Stealth’ programme – a phrase coined by a teacher after attending a Primary Engineer course. We work with schools to practically apply Mathematics and Science to design and make activities, leaving both students and teachers inspired. All of our courses are mapped to the curriculum and are designed to inspire and enthuse the entire class.

Our Secondary Engineer Fluid Power Challenge and our new Secondary Engineer Bicycle Clubs encourage different school departments to work together and link children’s learning to a central project. By applying concepts covered theoretically in Maths and Physics we create a much deeper understanding of the subject matter.

Our work is delivered through teacher training, interactive and paper-based resources, alongside the regional and national competitions mentioned above. Providing real-world context for the pupils and ensuring a greater understanding of the careers which exist within the industry.

I have an overwhelmingly optimistic view of the future as we reflect on the progress of the last 13 years of Primary Engineer. Much has changed; curriculum, school structures and most of all the realisation that engineering in primary schools is vital, it certainly wasn’t regarded as such when we started! So, looking forward, our vision is to build on our healthy foundations and continue developing our diverse and meaningful range of programmes. We want to ensure that every school has an access point which, by virtue of its success, will embed engineering as a focal point for the curriculum. We will strive to continue to engage more industries and organisations, and to design programmes that link the universe of engineering together, inspiring everyone in the process. We’ve only just begun.

If you are interested in getting involved with Primary Engineer, you can find out how you can help by visiting