Report offers tips on making a success of project-based learning

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Expert advice on making project-based learning (PBL) work is being offered to secondary schools in a new report.

Based on the work of three University Technical Colleges (UTC), the report looks in-depth at what they are doing to be successful and how best to engage and work with employers.

PBL requires students to work to briefs and deadlines and use skills such as critical thinking and problem solving. It is often carried out via projects relevant to industry and developed in collaboration with local employers and is linked strongly to employability skills.

The report has been produced by the National Foundation for Educational Research and published by education charity the Edge Foundation and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The report praises the impact of PBL on pupils in key stages 4 and 5. It states: “The evidence indicates that PBL and employer input, where delivered in a high-quality embedded way, deliver wide-ranging impacts for students, including work-readiness, enhanced emotional skills, high-level technical skills, and qualifications/awards.

“Additionally, access to industry professionals and working on a variety of projects with different employers over key stages 4 and 5 contribute to informed decision-making over their destinations and their futures.”

Key challenges to PBL and employer engagement identified in the report included ensuring high-quality input from employers and the problems of engaging with small or medium enterprises, which often have limited capacity and resources.

The report also highlights ways in which schools can make the most of PBL. These include:

  • Actively contacting businesses and linking their input into the curriculum with their future recruitment needs.
  • Ensuring teachers understand the benefits of employer input into PBL.
  • Flexibility around timetabling so students can access a full day of PBL, rather than sessions being spread across the week.
  • Employing key staff with industry backgrounds and connections to enhance relationships between business and schools.
  • Involving employers early on in any project and supporting them so that they know exactly what their contribution will be and when.

Edge Foundation chief executive, Alice Barnard, said: “This report draws out good practice from institutions that are focusing on work readiness. It identifies the common threads that make them successful in this area: developing links with industry; managing and nurturing the relationship with businesses; building this into the curriculum. Students are clearly benefiting from this experience and insight. There is much for all schools to learn from this approach.”

Dr Rhys Morgan, director of engineering and education at the Royal Academy of Engineering, added: “This report shows how, when done well, UTCs can play a valuable role in technical education provision.
“They are challenged by a lack of an established place in the education landscape and need more support to spread this best practice.”

  • Evaluation of University Technical Colleges, Edge Foundation & Royal Academy of Engineering, February 2019:
    www.raeng.org.uk/utc-phase2


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