Open Learning-Its Potential and Limitations

Open Learning – Its Potential and Limitations in Contributing to the Skills Agenda

The advent of open learning systems (OLS) that utilise the advantages of the internet clearly offers many opportunities to widen participation in education and training and make a major contribution to lifelong learning. The associated technologies allow increased distribution and access opportunities to potential learners across the globe and reduce/remove many barriers that restrict participation for many individuals. This can provide no/low-cost access and use with little or no restrictions for the learner. A multitude of technologies and techniques have been developed to suit the learner’s situation and needs. Massive on-line learning programmes are available across a wide range of subjects many of which are freely downloadable. The quality of the teaching material can be superior to class room based teaching and learning especially when the local providing institutions are constrained by resources.

Clearly these positive statements need to be qualified and the issues are mainly associated with quality assurance for the programmes, access issues and the learning resources themselves. Obviously strict standards must be in place coupled with rigorous inspection and monitoring regimes in order that quality is assured and the programmes deliver what they say they will. It must be recognised that traditional quality assurance mechanisms that exist in more formal face to face environments cannot be applied to these emerging widely distributed and open on-line learning methods. New approaches have to be created and require organisations like OECD, EU, and other organisations and consortia who are offering provision to establish agreed international standards and inspection techniques. Networks and consortia of universities and colleges are now offering open learning programmes recognising the undoubted advantages of these approaches and that will enhance their provision.

Clearly the ultimate success of open learning depends on the availability of high quality broad band in terms of geographical coverage and band width. There are still areas in Europe that have poor coverage and inadequate band width.

Clearly from my perspective and interest in the teaching of technical and practically based subjects is the ability of these technologies to play their part in improving and delivering a relevant pedagogical experience. For successful teaching of practical and manual skills the learning environment must be as realistic as possible. The technologies can obviously complement and add value to the traditional formal methods where the learners have access to laboratories and workshops in colleges and training providers. The visual and audio on-line material can provide a much richer detail and resultant experience that might not be available in the more formal setting of the classroom, laboratories and workshops because of resource limitations. The technologies can offer a range of techniques that will engage and enhance the learning experience including interactive visual/audio presentations and practical demonstrations that will complement the essential local hands on approach of the learner, information and work sheets, tests and assessment material and an increasing number of specialised apps (applications). The material can be downloaded and will complement book based/lecture material.

However real challenges still exist for the lone and isolated learner who might not have access to laboratories and workshops and hence not have the benefit of an essential realistic working environment. The development of more sophisticated modes of online interactivity will create more realistic working environments (RWEs) which would greatly enhance the learning experience in this mode in the future. I still have some reservations, albeit minor, that these technologies will never create the real hands on experience that I feel should still be realised for learners in gaining technical and practical skills.

Open educational resources (OERs) and open educational practices (OEPs) will increasingly make a major contribution to the teaching and learning of theoretical and practical skills in the future.

The Future of the FE Sector is in Real Danger!

Yet again parliament is discussing the future of the Further Education Sector. During this period of austerity the topic is very much alive as the government tackles or should that be attacks public sector spending. FE has always been an easy target, little understood or given the recognition it deserves. Massive cuts are being introduced across college budgets e.g. 24%+ at Liverpool College and as a result staff are being made redundant and more are employed on fixed term or zero hour contracts. A recent report highlighted the massive reserves that universities have compared with the paucity of funds that the colleges have pointing out that 25% of colleges will be bankrupt with the next year! This is bad enough but a number of politicians are suggesting that the sector is increasingly irrelevant arguing that the other sectors of education and the private sector can make the provision. The appearance of academies, specialist schools, free schools and the like and the raising of the school leaving age to 18 does not help the case for colleges. Also the number of colleges in the country continues to decline rapidly. Many politicians seem to imagine the provision can be developed and delivered in these other institutions, again reflecting their ignorance of technical and vocational education.

Sadly it reflects the fact that technical education and training and its providers have been treated as second best for many decades. Since the Great Exhibition technical education has witnessed many false dawns, been bombarded with volumes of empty rhetoric with little long term improvement, and this situation continues today. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and establishing an effective revitalised manufacturing base it must fully recognise the key role the sector must play in this endeavour. The government should recognise that colleges and other training providers must be significantly involved in the development of high quality apprenticeship programmes with employers and major programmes in technical and vocational education and training.

Actions that must be taken:

  • College staff must lobby their professional organisations and employers they work with to make it clear to politicians of all persuasions that the sector is essential in creating the highly qualified workforce of the future and play a major part in improving the current low skills levels so prevalent in this country.
  • A fundamental review and reform of education and training in this country to be carried out to once and for all establish an effective FE sector that is recognised, secure, and well-resourced and given equal status with schools and universities.
  • College staff, particularly Senior and members of the Governors to lobby local MPs and get them to visit the colleges regularly to see their work.
  • Colleges to work together with the organisations that represent the sector again to constantly lobby all the appropriate parties.
  • Get former students to champion the advantages and merits of colleges and their qualifications
  • Get rid of the differential funding regimes between young and older students and those pursuing different modes of attendance/delivery.
  • Treat all the sectors fairly particularly in their resources. The average funding for FE students is £2,000 as opposed to £9,000 for university students.
  • Tackle the massive surpluses that universities hold and transfer some of the money to colleges.

The message to all interested parties is to tap all possible networks in order to broadcast the importance of the sector and its work or it will be consigned to history.



Work Experience and Employability – Key Elements.


The value of work experience at all levels of the education system has long been acknowledged although many employers, employer groups and universities have not been fully convinced or supportive of work based learning. Even today there is continued resistance, albeit thankfully now declining, to work experience programmes. Over the years universities and a number of employers have been criticised   for not recognising the value of work-experience programmes and its essential focus on the practical aspects associated with the world of work.  Too often they were obsessed with the academic aspects of degree subjects with the resultant neglect of the practical applications of that knowledge in the work place or were more interested in the university from which students graduated. Interestingly to note that 19% of graduates are now working in non-graduate jobs, a figure that is predicted to increase in the future and a stark reminder of the woeful state of the supply and demand strategies being operated in the country!  In order to address skills shortages and gaps the country urgently needs more engineers (estimated to require a 100% increase in order to satisfy current demand), computer science graduates (20,000 needed) and many more skilled technicians in order to begin to rebalance the economy. A recent survey highlighted the need to produce 1.82 million engineers and technicians by 2022. The current decline in the teaching of Design and Technology (D&T) in schools both associated with the number of qualified teachers and the low number of students wishing to study the subject is particularly concerning. The subject has always struggled to be fully recognised in the national curriculum.

Early work experience programmes are crucial as a predictor of future career performance and outcomes. It is essential that all parties make a long term commitment to work experience programmes at all stages of education and training. In addition there must be a long term and continued commitment to the development of high quality apprentice programmes. Internships if properly managed with interns receiving a proper wage and involved in the company have allowed some employers to witness the benefit of relevant and real on job training and experience. These programmes must be further expanded across all employment sectors with SMEs particularly given far more financial and government support to increase their involvement.  Interesting to note that SMEs employ 60% of workers in private sector companies and this figure will increase significantly in the future. Equally important SMEs must be supported to engage more fully in apprenticeship programmes.

Extended programmes of work experience at all levels especially at the school stages of the education and training system are urgently required as this will greatly benefit all parties and the wider economy.  A great deal of discussion recently has centred on the need to  create ‘work ready graduates’  and programmes of work experience will most certainly assist in this essential endeavour.  Equally important more effective programmes of careers information, advice and guidance must be developed within the education and training sectors with an emphasis on honest and realistic broker-ship. It is also essential to recognise the importance of the older worker in these programmes as the work force ages and the realities of the demographic trends are more fully understood. Currently 25% of the country’s workforce is over 50 years of age and this figure will significantly increase in the future.

Students must also be more realistic about their studies and take ownership of their career intentions particularly at the earlier stages of their education. Too often they drift into HE without any real idea of what they want to do after graduation. In addition parental and teacher pressure often sets them on the wrong study/career path.

Businesses/companies, CBI, Chambers of Commerce, professional bodies should put more effort in to writing and communicating realistic descriptions and explanations of their fields of work, production and services which speak to 14-16 year olds as well as post16s. They have as much responsibility for grabbing young people’s attention as any other institution.

If this country is serious about rebalancing our economy and realise the rather clumsy and stupid slogan  ‘march with the makers’  made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer it must address some fundamental practices and beliefs.

The country urgently needs to rethink its current obsession with the financial services and consumerism. To summarise it must move towards production and away from a consuming society and create a more sensible balance between the manufacturing and service based industries. The education and training system has a central role to play and the introduction of extensive programmes of work experience is an essential feature of this endeavour. Following cuts to colleges over the past few years 25% of Further Colleges (FECs) are expected to be bankrupt within the next year and a number of commentators have argued that £500m should be taken away from the current vast reserves held by some universities. FE colleges have a central role in training engineers, technicians and skilled workers in strategically important industries that will form the basis of a rebalanced economy and must be resourced properly.

Rebalancing the Economy – Fact or Fiction?


What progress has occurred since the government announcement that it intends to reform and rebalance the country’s economy? There is little evidence of that commitment so far in spite of a great deal of rhetoric about skills shortages, gaps, restoring a manufacturing base, productivity levels etc. Age old issues are rehearsed yet again but with little positive and lasting results.

The slogan ‘march with the makers’ coined by the Chancellor trivialises this crucially important endeavour bearing in mind the multitude of long standing and fundamental problems and factors associated with the economy. In order to resolve these problems radical solutions need to be identified and addressed recognising that many will be painful for politicians, the financial and banking services, employers and society in general.

In order to compete internationally and establish a rebalanced economy based on manufacturing the following important actions will need to be taken:

Reduce the emphasis on financial and service/consumer based industries and establish a more balanced economy founded on the manufacture of high value products and services.

Realign the manufacturing base reducing the emphasis on military and weapons production and exports. Develop a set of manufacturing companies that produce high quality products

Devolve powers from the City, London and the South East to the English Regions and home nations e.g. NI, Wales and Scotland exploiting the undoubted strengths of the whole country and creating a more equitable and fair society.

Develop strong trading links with the emerging economies and recognise the importance of the EU to the economy.

Raising the levels of productivity within the current work force the country has a productivity level 20% below France, 32% below America and 33% below Germany. A recent survey showed that many workers spent a great deal of their supposed working time on the internet, twitter and sending pointless emails – this partly explains the reason for low productivity.  Education and employers have a major role to play here via in-service training and CPD etc. The dire state of the nations economy must be recognised and addressed – the massive personal and corporate debt will eventually hit a brick wall and cause the country to be totally bankrupt with all the consequent problems. Continued QE will not solve the problems it has only benefitted the banks/financial sectors, the art world, high valued property markets i.e. the 1% of the population and there is no evidence of any benefit or trickle down  to the real economy and the average person. The country and its economy is based on further increasing debt and this must cease and move to producing products that the world will buy.

Massive and sustained investment in infrastructure e.g. transport – roads, railways and public transport in general, affordable housing, digital connectivity and the development of quality broad band across the whole nation.

Raise significantly the current level of skills of workers and move away from a low skill/ low waged economy/high benefit regimes. This example is reinforced by the rapid growth of zero hour contracts.

Reduce the amount of pointless bureaucracy imposed on employers and provide incentives for employers to train their staff. Sadly investment by employers over the past 20 years has declined every year and this intensifies during recession and turn downs in the economy.

Once and for all adequately resource FE colleges with funding methodologies that recognise high cost low recruitment in strategically important technical, practical orientated and vocational subjects.

Promote and raise the profile of the importance of technical, commercial and vocational education and training across the education system. Create a parity of esteem between FE colleges and Higher Education institutions.

Stop institutions and the school curriculum from academically drifting. Reduce the obsession with examinations and assessments and the academic dominance in the national curriculum.

More fully recognise the importance of FE colleges and training providers and the crucial role they play in training engineers, technicians and skilled practical members of the workforce. Significantly increase and sustain the funding to FECs.

Create more links between schools and FE colleges using the experience of the TVEI.

Develop more work based learning in schools and colleges with compulsory work placements and experience programmes.

Involve employers more in the development and monitoring of the school curriculum.

Continue to create and resource high quality apprenticeship programmes including those at the higher levels.

Develop more effective and accurate labour market intelligence methods particularly associated with supply and demand issues.

Develop more effective careers information, advice and guidance systems in schools, colleges and universities.

Develop a greater emphasis of technical and vocational elements within the national school curriculum. Create a greater balance and integration between the theoretical and practical aspects of the curriculum. Review fundamentally the balances between content, knowledge, competences and skills with the curriculum.

Tackle the need to develop mathematical, scientific and technological literacy across the curriculum at all levels i.e. school and post-16 curriculum.

Create a better balance between applied and academic skills and between the hard an soft skills in the national curriculum

Develop clear policies and strategies on skills shortages and gaps using accurate and up to date supply and demand data.

Recognise and support more fully SMEs and their important place in the future economy.

University of London External Degrees

(An external degree is a degree offered by a university or a university approved centre to students where the students’ learning takes place outside the direct supervision of the university/college). The external degree is offered alongside the traditional internal degree programmes for those students who can attend the University full time).

External degrees were established by University of London in 1858 and were offered to people who were not able to attend the institutions in London. The degrees were open to people in other cities, or to London based students who had attended evening classes. Across the country approved/accredited colleges including designated university colleges were established. In 1865 overseas centres were approved the first being in Mauritius.

This mode of study is but one of the pioneering achievements of London University – also the first Higher Education Institution in England to admit women to degrees and to offer innovative degrees in engineering and science. Today external degrees still form part of the University’s portfolio of distance learning programmes which has greatly expanded with the advent of information and communication technologies and on-line learning. Currently the University of London External System continues to innovate offering over 100 qualifications many taught using the latest technologies. Approximately 41,000 students from 180 nations pursing external degrees based on 2008 figures. External degrees and study offer real opportunities to students who because of financial, energy and time constraints cannot travel between one’s home town and the University and increasingly for those who are undertaking study with paid employment. Today with the advent of distance and on-line learning the opportunities are greatly increased.

The majority of Higher Education (HE) institutions now offer external learning opportunities but London was the first to offer external degrees. However I want to focus on the award from a personal viewpoint and describe their importance to many students particularly in the mid-1900s when secondary schooling was very different and defined by the tripartite system. Many people are surprised that this mode of study and attendance existed then. So I hope this short account will highlight its importance, recognise the pioneering work of London University and show how the external degrees were managed and operated to benefit many students at that time.

I was an external degree student studying the BSc Special Honours Physics programme between 1962 and 1965 at Portsmouth College of Technology. The college had gained accreditation from London University to offer external degrees both at Special and General level in a wide range of subjects e.g. botany, economics, engineering, physics and sociology, London University deemed that the college possessed the necessary resources and reputation to offer its HE programmes.

Like many individuals who had failed the 11+ Colleges offered me a second chance after leaving Secondary Modern School which in the system of the time did not offer GCE qualifications. Initially I attended the College to take GCE ‘O’ and then ‘A’ levels. Staff at the college then encouraged me to continue my studies by pursuing the Special Honours Physics Degree. Another aspect in my favour was that at the time London University had for a few years in the early 1960s dropped the English ‘O’ level entry requirement for both internal and external students! This shows the role luck can often play in one’s education.

Overall the external degree required the same entry qualifications for all student applicants and the syllabuses were identical. The duration of study period for full-time students was shorter than for part-time students who obviously took longer. All the theory and practical classes were conducted at the College and delivered by the college staff. To complement and reinforce our studies the college offered a series of evening talks on specific scientific topics related to the course given by expert speakers. Finally guest speakers were invited to deliver lectures during the day sessions. In the last year students on the degree course occasionally went to London University to hear specialised lectures from University staff; then the audience comprised both external and internal students.

However students were required to take the Part 1 and the Finals practical examinations and Mathematics for Physics paper at London University. Students from Portsmouth and some overseas students attended Imperial College to take the practical examinations at the end of the second and third years. All the examinations were operated on an unseen basis meaning that the students had no idea of what was going to be asked.

I mention the unseen aspect as subsequently I was told by former internal students that they could often discern or guess what topics could be raised in the examinations from the emphasis their lecturers gave during their lectures. Whether this was true or not would be difficult to prove but after all the University staff did set the papers where as the college staff had no involvement in the examination process. In fact when I applied for post-graduate studies at other universities the admission tutors said how much they rated external degree graduates. Often they would reinforce that view by saying that the degree classification achieved by external students was one grade less than the internal students had gained because of this unseen aspect! Again I cannot verify this perception but the admission tutors quite openly stressed that possibility when extolling the value of the external degree.

The examination regime was quite challenging Part 1 comprised six theory papers plus a number of practical examinations taken in London. The Finals comprised a number of optional papers some with a mathematical emphasis and a six hour practical again taken in London. Even with these challenges I enjoyed the experience of taking an external degree that required a lot of private study and the need to cover the entire given syllabus. The teaching and support staff at Portsmouth were sympathetic and understanding of the problems that 11+ failures could experience. It is important to remember that it was still at that time a relatively rare occurrence for Secondary Modern school leavers to undertake further and higher studies.


(Subsequently Portsmouth College of Technology proved its academic credentials by becoming one of the leading Polytechnics and eventually gained University status in 1992). This progression surely validated its designation as an accredited centre for London University external degrees in the early 1960s.)


The Jargon Continues

The Jargon Continues

The world of education and training continues to bombard us with complex and often meaningless jargon and slogans avoiding more simplified meanings. Inspection agencies are particularly probe to seek sanctuary in jargon and slogans. The topic has also now invented its own jargon namely eduspeak, pedagogese and edutalk etc!

Term Simple meaning
Alternative provision Learning outside college
Buy in Agree with a proposal  etc.
Differentiation Using different approaches for different types of students
Deliverables Situations that can be realised/achieved
Drill down Analyse more closely
Engaged Work/collaborate with
Facing A meeting!
Going forward or moving forward Improving or progressing
Inclusivity Involves all
Intervention Offering extra support, guidance to students
It’s on my radar I am aware of it
Key metrics Important factors or indices
Learning ethos/environment Classrooms/laboratories
Leverage How situation/something can be manipulated or controlled
Performance management Setting targets for teachers/lecturers
Outcomes/Outcome-focused Results
Paradigm shift No idea what this means
Professional development Training
Pushing the envelope No idea -after all the envelope is still stationary/stationery! (Sorry)
Reaching out Let’s set up a meeting  or contact someone
Robust Good workable idea/proposal
Rubric It’s a check list
SWAT team Group of experts
Synergise Work effectively together in teams
Take it to the next level Improve
Thinking outside the box Be original
Thought leader No idea what this means!
360 degree evaluation Comprehensive review
Trailblazers Pilots
Transitionism Situations  are changing



Ayrton an interesting note

I am very grateful to Yasu. Shinohara, Senior Specialist, Ministry of Education, Sports, Science and Technology, Tokyo, Japan for sending this fascinating piece. We have worked together on issues associated with technical education in Japan and Britain. See biographies for more about Ayrton and his amazing achievements.


Fact File Ayrton 1


‘Memories of Mr Ayrton’


Mr Ayrton was a hard worker. He went to the laboratory even in Sundays to study. He

designed his own desk. There are many research publications he wrote with Mr John

Perry. That is why then it was said as if the centre of electronic engineering moved from

Britain to Japan. Mr Ayrton often got off the track during his lectures. Students did not

understand right away what important things he would tell, then we realised the

significance of his episodes later many times. Mr Ayrton always said to us, ‘Please don’t

copy someone else. You should not replicate something existed already. You must try to

make the thing better and discover something better.’ Mr Ayrton had been studying

until the very end of his Japan days. At that time he was studying about the ratio of

electrostatic unit to electromagnetic unit. On his way home, Mr Ayrton never stopped

the calculation and he got the result at Hong Kong, then he kindly sent it to Japan by

telegram. The followings are the questions Mr Ayrton gave us at a physics lesson.

  1. Can you add a line to a line?
  2. Can you subtract a line from a line?
  3. Can you multiply a line with a line?
  4. Can you divide a line by a line?



Editing society of the history of ICE, History of Imperial College of Engineering

[Kyu-koubu-daigakko-shiryo] (1931) pp.163-164. ‘Memories of Mr Ayrton’ extracted

from ‘The old days of the Imperial College of Engineering’


NAKAMURA Hachiro, The beginning and development of electric industry in Japan

[Denkijigyo-no-ransho-to-tenkaikatei] (United Nation University, 1982) p.7

Dates of Inventions, Discoveries and other Developments

Dates of Inventions, Discoveries and other Developments.

This section complements the pen portraits ‘Great Engineers and Pioneers and their Education’ on this website.

Again it must be stressed that the industrial revolution was driven by craftsmen like James Watt, self- taught business people like Matthew Boulton and artisans like Henry Maudslay. It did not develop from London or through royal patronage but from Cities like Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. The universities played little part it its creation as many of the inventors and individuals never attended formal educational institutions and as the history of technical education identifies dissenting academies, mechanics’ institutions and working men’s clubs etc. made important contributions to their education as did the apprenticeship schemes active at that time. However the majority were self-taught and possessed a remarkable inherent, innate talent and outstanding manual skills

November 2015

It will be further expanded.

1563 William Lee invents the Stocking Frame for knitting stockings.

1658: Clock balance spring. Robert Hooke.

1698: First attempt to use steam power. Thomas Savery.

1671: Silk spinning machine. Edmund Blood.

1678 Coke to smelt introduced by a number of people including Clement Clerke.

1694 First Centre Bank establishes in England.

1701/08: Machine seed drill. Jethro Tull.

1709: Improved iron smelting process. Abraham Darby – Coke fuelled furnaces used by Abraham Darby of Coalbrookdale.

1712 Steam engine. Thomas Newcomen and Thomas Savery. Newcomen used a piston in his engine.

1718 Thomas Lombe’s silk mill, Derby.

1721: First mechanised water-powered silk mill at Derby. John Lombe.

1728: Ship chronometer. John Harrison.

1730 First successful iron plough introduced by Joseph Foljambe Rotherham.

1732: Threshing machine. Michael Menzies.

1733: Flying shuttle (weaving). John Kay. Stephen Hales first measures blood pressure.

1736 John Harrison tests his first sea clock.

1738 Paul Lewis’s roller spinning machine.

1740s Crucible steel techniques introduced by Benjamin Huntsman in Doncaster.

1743: Wool carding machine. David Bourne. Chelsea Porcelain Works opened.

1744 Integrated brass mill in operation in Bristol.

1743: Compound lever. John Wyatt.

1746: Production of sulphuric acid by the lead chamber process. John Roebuck.

1750 After 1750 Turnpike Trusts were established to improve main roads. Investments in roads in the early 1800s was around £3 million.

1751 Worcester Porcelain Factory opened.

1759 First Canal Act in 1830 there were 4,000 miles of canals in Britain.

1758: First threshing machine.

1759 Wedgwood’s Burslem factory opened. Smeaton’s Eddystone Lighthouse started.

1760 Wyatt’s wood screw patented.

1761: Bridgewater Canal opened Worley to Manchester – James Brindley.

1763 Newcomen engine used in colliery winding.

1764/65: Spinning jenny – patented in 1770. James Hargreaves.

1765 James Watt produces a more efficient version of the Newcomen engine.

1766 Soho Ironworks opened, Birmingham.

1767 Joseph Priestly invents a method of producing carbonated water.

1769: Hydraulic spinning frame-spinning frame or water frame patented. Richard Arkwright. Arkwright’s first factory opened in Nottingham.

1770 First iron plough invented.

1771 Arkwright’s Cromford Mill opened.

1774: Leeds and Liverpool canal opened. Wilkinson’s boring machine invented.

1775: First efficient steam engine improved Newcomen engine. James Watt. Boulton and Watt partnership established.

1776 Adam Smith publishes ‘The Wealth of Nations’.

1777 Arkwright’s Birkacre Mill opened.

1778: Improved flush toilet. Joseph Braham. Mortise tumbler invented. Robert Barron. Ramsden’s screw cutting lathe invented.

1779: First steam powered mills utilises Hargreave’s and Arkwright’s machines. Samuel Crompton mule invented.

1781 Watt’s sun and planet gears developed.

1783: Improved iron manufacturing processes – rolling and puddling in 1784. Henry Cort.

1784: Invention of secure locks. Joseph Brahm.

1784: Threshing machine invented by Andrew Meikle. Lea mills founded by John Smedley.

1785: Vertical power loom patented. Edmund Cartwright. Ransome’s patent for ploughshare.

1786: Two man operated loom patented. Edmund Cartwright. Meikle’s threshing machine invented.

1787 First iron boat built by John Wilkinson.

1787 Cartwright builds a power loom.

1789: Thames and Severn canal opened.  Edward Arkwright’s water frame patented.

1791 First compound steam engine introduced by Cornish engineer Jonathon Hornblower.

1792: First domestic gas lighting system in Redruth Cornwall. William Murdock. Cartwright’s wool combing machine invented.

1793 Minton Porcelain Factory opened, Stoke-on Trent

1793/1803: The Dee and Cierog iron aqueducts. Thomas Telford.

1793 Eli Whitney develops his cotton gin to clean raw cotton.

1795: Hydraulic press – first demonstration by Joseph Bramah.  Soho Foundry opened by Boulton and Watt.

1796 Spode produced bone china.

1797 Henry Maudslay invents the first industrial lathe.

1798 Edward  Jenner invents first successful vaccine for smallpox.

1799 Eddystone Lighthouse completed by John Smeaton stood until 1882. George Medhurst the motorised air compreesor.

1800: Development of bleaching powder. Charles Tennant.

1801/04: Steam locomotive. Richard Trevithick.

1802 High pressure steam engine patented by Richard Trevithick. William Cruickshank designed first electric battery capable of mass production. Soho Works partly lit by gas.

1802 William Cruickshank designs electric battery capable of mass production.

1803 Ploughshare of chilled cast irob developed by Robert Ransome of Clipswich, Suffolk. John Dalton developed the atomic theory.

1803  Between 1803 and 1822 Caledonian Canal cuts across Scotland.

1805 Micrometer invented by Henry Maudslay.

1805-1806 Steam dredger used on various river beds and docks by Richard Trevithrick. Pontcysylltau (Llangollen, Wales)  opened for business by Thomas Telford.

1807 Robert Fulton’s Clermont first successful steamboat – greatly improved transport by sea and international trade. Alexander John Forsyth patents percussion cap.

1809 Humphry Davy invents first electric arc lamp. Dickinson’s papermaking machine invented. Bobbinet lace making machine invented.

1810 Chain bridge design patented by Samuel Brown.

1811 Plymouth breakwater started completed in 1838! John Rennie.

1812 Richard Trevithvick adapted steam engine to work at a pressure of 40 pounds per square inch.

1813: Mine safety lamp. Humphrey Davy and George Stephenson. Improved loom patented by Samuel Horrock.

1813: Improved loom developed. Samuel Horrocks.

1815 Doulton Pottery opened, Lambeth. Steam driven introduced in paper-making.

1816: First ‘macadamised’ road surface. Improved smelting process introduced by Joseph Hall of Tipton – greatly improved Henry Cort method of puddling. Davy safety lamp invented.

1817 Jacquard loom patented.

1818: Middleton milling machine. Robert Johnson and Simeon North.

1819 First steamship in the world to enter to enter sea-going service the Rob Roy by William Denny of Dumbarton.

1821: Demonstration of the principle of the electric motor through electro-magnetic rotation. Michael Faraday. Steam pump used to drain the Fens in east Anglia.

1823 Charles Mackintosh patents a water proof fabric.

1824: Chemical process patented for making Portland cement. Joseph Aspdin.

1825: Invention of the tunneling shield. Marc Brunel. Darlington-Stockton railway opened by George Stephenson. William Sturgeon invents the electromagnet.

1826 Journeymen Steam Engine Fitters established first major industrial trade union in Manchester. Fly frame patented by Henry Houldsworth. St. Helens Crown Glass Company established. John Walker invents friction match.

1828 Hot blast furnace/oven patented by James Beaumont Neilson. Bell’s reaping machine invented.

1830 George and Robert Stephenson worked together on the London-Birmingham railway. R Stephenson produced his Planet locomotive – 4 wheel design 2-2-0.

1830 Liverpool-Manchesrer Railway begins first regular commercial rail service.

1831: Electric generator. Michael Faraday used a method of electromagnet induction. Also discovered independently a year later by Joseph Henry.

1832 Sheet glass produced by Chance Brothers (Techniques discovered in Europe).

1833 Ericsson’s screw propeller invented.

1833/34: Differential calculating machine. Charles Babbage.

1834: Accurate measuring machine constructed to measure one-millionth of an inch. Joseph Whitworth.

1834: The photographic process discovered. Fox Talbot.

1835 Francis Smith invents the propeller. Joseph Henry invents the electromechanical relay.

1838 First successful screw steamer Archimedes launched by the Rennie Brothers at Millwall in November.

1839: Introduction of photographic paper. Fox Talbot. William Grove develops principles of hydrogen fuel cell. Nasmyth’s steam hammer invented.

1840 Manufacture of ferro-manganese by David Mushet – an excellent wearing resistance material. Roland Hill introduces prepaid mail and the first postage stamp. George Hudson built first railway station in York. Electroplating invented.

1841: Standard thread accepted. Joseph Whitworth. Fox Talbot’s calotype patented. Jacquard loom adapted for lace making. Shipbuilding yards opened at Govan by Robert Napier.

1842 Bessemser’s typesetting machine invented.

1843: First cement underwater tunnel opened– Thames Tunnel. Ransome’s made first all-iron plough.

1844 John Mercer invents mercertised cotton. Whitworth’s gear cutting machine invented.

1845 Compound steam engine invented by William McNaught.

1846 First hydraulic crane produced by William Armstrong.

1849 Steam plough patented by James Usher of Edinburgh.

1850 Britannia Bridge, Menai Straits, Anglesey by Robert Stephenson.

1850 Canal system was 4,000 miles.

1851  Hydraulic accumulator invented by William Armstrong (1850?).

1853: Piloted glider. George Cayley.

1854: Invention steel converter by Henry Bessemer. John Tyndall identifies principles of fibre optics. Fowler’s steam plough invented. First tarmac road laid in Paris invented by John McAdam.

1855 Joseph Whitworth produced a measuring machine capable of detecting a difference of a millionth part of an inch. James Clerk Maxwell invents first practical method for colour photography.

1855 Regius Chair of Technology founded at Edinburgh. William Bessemer patents new process for steel making.

1856: Production of aniline dyes. William Perkin. First practical commercial refrigeration system patented in England by James Harrison. Bessemer converter invented.

1857 New improved regenerative furnace invented by Friedrich Siemens. Steam driven generator used to produce electricity for lighting.

1858 First trans-Atlantic cable completed.

1860 HMS Warrior Britain’s first iron warship is launched.

1861 Siemens furnace first used for glass manufacture.

1862 Titanic Steel and Iron Company founded by Robert Mshet.

1873: Explanation of electromagnetism and waves. James Clerk Maxwell.

1884 Steam turbine engine patented by Charles Parsons.

1887 Large-scale manufacture of manganese steel in Sheffield by Robert Hadfield.

1892 James Dewar invents vacuum flask.

1894: Last major canal built in Britain – Manchester Ship Canal.

1896 First vessel propelled by turbines – Charles Parsons.

1926 John Logie Baird invents the TV.

August 2014.

Is this a Weak Link?

One of the striking features of the secondary education system in England is the failure to introduce vocational elements into the curriculum. Successive attempts to create a long term and effective system including these elements have proved ineffective because of a whole series of factors, all of which have been discussed ad nauseam over many decades. Such worthy initiatives/schemes as CPVE, TVEI. GNVQ ,  link courses between schools and colleges and a series of reforms to establish vocational awards all ultimately failed because of political indifference or dogma. In addition many school teachers and LEAs were suspicious and in some cases hostile to TVEI.  I worked in one authority that was very supportive of the initiative and excellent relationships were established between the colleges, schools and the LEA. Some of these initiatives promised much but few were properly evaluated and any lessons learnt were never picked up as so often happens with other initiatives in his country.

At present the skills agenda is being promoted by the government although as usual mixed and often contradictory policies are being presented as can be seen from the latest consultation on ‘Apprenticeship Funding  Reform’ which would put a ludicrous burden on employers especially Micro businesses and SMEs . The centrality and importance of apprenticeships in creating a qualified workforce is on the agenda along with reforms to vocational qualifications but I feel that one major element is still absent which the government continues not to recognise and action. This deficit in the skills agenda is the absence of a long term, effective and mandatory set of work experience programmes such as work sampling/shadowing or work placement at school level reinforced by a curriculum that contains vocational subjects and themes.  The government’s recent decision to withdraw funding to help schools facilitate work experience is depressing and retrograde and again reflects the lack of strategic thinking on the development of a qualified and skilled workforce.

Significant evidence exists that shows that students achieve and perform better if they have experienced some form of work   experience or a greater practical awareness of the world of work. This is equally true whether the students are on the so-called academic programmes or vocational programmes. Furthermore the evidence shows conclusively that the earlier that experience occurs the better prepared the students are to more fully understand the needs of employment which in turn assists them to make better informed decisions about their future employment  and/or further studies.

In spite of this conclusive evidence schools still find it difficult to engage with industry and commerce. The government mantras of ‘march with the maker’s,’ students must have employability skills’ and ‘students must be work ready’ are meaningless when the schools are not prepared  to develop links with employers. In order to effectively realise a skills agenda and assist a rebalancing of the economy vocational elements and work based activities must be introduced from at least key stage 4.

So what are the reasons, whether real or imagined , why schools are reluctant to introduce these crucial elements into the curriculum?

Typical comments from school managers/teachers about vocational and work experience programmes are:

  • Too little time to arrange non-essential topics in the timetable (Note the word non-essential which indicates little understanding or sympathy for such activities).
  • The curriculum is driven by tests and examinations which allows little time for other activities.
  • The curriculum has become a strait jacket, a tread mill coupled with an obsession with academic subjects.
  • It’s difficult to establish industry-based projects which require cross subject involvement as colleagues are pinned down by form filling, teaching for tests and petty bureaucracy or they are not committed to the idea.
  • No time to release students onto programmes of work shadowing/sampling, work placement and arranging for visits by and to employers.
  • Students can undertake work placed experience at a later stage when at college; schools need to maintain an academically focused curriculum.
  • The need to study as many subjects for GCSEs is often mentioned; it would appear that schools have accepted that cramming the curriculum is the norm and success is measured by grades and maximising the number of subjects gained.
  • Employers cannot afford to expend resources especially at this time of recession and too often show they do not understand education.

Many of these factors are not necessarily the fault of the teachers; many are precipitated by present government policies which continue to heavily prescribe a narrow academic curriculum as evidenced by the replacement of functional skills by GCSE English and Mathematics. Also implicated is the acceptance by the government of a recommendation of the Wolf Review to stop funding for facilitating work experience in schools. Yes, academic drift is alive and thriving under this government whatever they say about vocational and apprenticeship programmes being a priority. Finally as has been said before staff in schools have little or no direct experience of the world of work outside their own profession following the traditional route of school, university/training college straight into teaching.

Employers especially the SMEs, which make up approximately 50% of all employers in the UK, must be provided with funding and equally importantly not tied down with increased petty bureaucracy. Effective and long term partnerships between schools, local colleges and training providers, professional bodies, LEAs and employers will surely increase the likelihood of a successful implementation of vocational and work experience programmes and remove the weak link in the chain which current policy represents.



A Threat to Rebalancing the Economy?

A concern in many countries is the current and growing trend among young qualified people who decide to leave to seek employment in other countries as a consequence of the continuing recession and financial crisis. Many young people have become increasingly disillusioned after qualifying to find they are underemployed or unemployed. If this trend continues to increase it will seriously undermine strategies to reform and rebalance the economies of countries in Europe and beyond. In addition people who have been made redundant or are in employment areas that are vulnerable to closure or down sizing are equally uncertain about their future employment prospects in their own countries.  One recent statistic highlights this development which is not just about the young people but that there has been a 45% increase in the redundancy rate for women over 50 between 2010 and 2013 compared with 13% increase in their redundancy rate in the previous few years.

The current spectre of high unemployment especially amongst young people emphasises the urgent requirement of a fundamental rethink of the methods a country uses to reconfigure its economy in order to recover from the current crisis and cope with all the uncertainties of the future.  To date very few governments, especially in the West, have failed to recognise let alone begin to tackle the underlying causes of the crisis. Indeed many are continuing to operate the same practices that caused the crisis in the first place e.g. an obsession with property and the rampant operation of the so-called free market which creates artificial bubbles that will in turn recreate the boom and burst economy. One depressing feature of the obsession with property and house ownership in England is that for young people buying a property is an almost impossible dream and is another factor in the desire to move abroad.

The current profile of employment in Britain lacks credibility and is based on highly questionable ethical practices comprising as it does people on part time contracts very often with little or no security of tenure or employment rights e.g. zero hour contracts. At present there are 1.4million people on zero hour contracts employed mainly by larger companies in Britain. Sadly other areas of employment are adopting this practice e.g. universities and colleges.  Also the country continues to be wedded to a skewed economy dominated by financial and banking services. The situation is particularly depressing when young people have been conned into going into HE with the expectation of appropriate employment for their subject specialism coupled with reasonable salaries. In addition they are lumbered with massive student debt with little prospect of clearing it in their life time – this is particularly the case in England and USA. The future for many young people is very uncertain and one can understand their frustration and desire to find meaningful employment and life abroad.

But it is these graduates and experienced workers of all ages who have been made redundant for whom the home country needs to revitalise and rebalance the economy. Many are the next generation who should be valued for the country’s future. Unless the country recognises this fact then people will migrate elsewhere and contribute to a more vibrant and secure economy there while their home country’s economy founders further.

Many commentators have argued that this is not a serious issue because of the dynamics of the world economy. The world over people will move to other countries and replace those who have left. This however raises many interesting questions about how a country plans and manages its education and training system. In the past the West has often been accused of poaching from abroad qualified people from such areas as nursing, other medical professionals and dentistry with all the associated ethical issues. After all these countries are often poor and have invested in their people’s education and training only to find richer countries benefit from that investment.  I have no problems about global mobility which will hopefully enrich, create mutual respect  and create greater understanding amongst different cultures but it must be managed in a more ethical and reciprocal fashion recognising the needs of each country.

If each country is serious about rebalancing its economy and realising a sensible level of employment it must carry out fundamental reviews of its education and training systems to more effectively match its future economy. Critical decisions need to be taken about the shape of the manufacturing /service industries and the skills that they require. In addition a more accurate analysis of the supply and demand requirements is needed that will create confidence amongst their own populations that the skills they possess will be recognised and valued by employers. Failure to carry out these reviews and reforms will weaken any attempts to rebalance their economies.