River Wissey Lovell Fuller


June 2010

Ron gets on his soapbox to discuss Children in Care and Engineers!

Children in Care

A subject that I have visited before. Social Services find children that are considered to be at risk for any one of a number of reasons and take them into care. However it seems that 'taking into care' is often not nearly as good as it might be.

Recently, at her inaugural lecture at the London University's Institute of Education, Professor Sonia Jackson focussed on the care system. The following is from the opening paragraph of her summary:

"Children and young people that have been in care make up less than one percent of the population and yet they account for half the inmates in young offenders institutions and one quarter of adult prisoners. Two years after leaving school 80% of these young people are unemployed, many are homeless. They often suffer with poor health and struggle with problems of alcohol and drugs."

The cost of taking children into care is estimated at £2bn, the annual cost per child is unbelievably high. The additional cost of the crime committed by them in later life and the associated prison costs, along with the costs of homelessness, must also be measured in billions.

The involvement of these young people in crime and prostitution, along with alcohol and drug abuse, is a consequence of the hopelessness of unemployment and homelessness. Without doubt, however, education is the way out of their deprivation. Currently only 14% of children in care achieve five GCSEs, less than 10% go on to any form of higher education.

These children are not responsible for being born into unfortunate circumstances, surely the state could do much better for them with that amount of money. Why are we failing them? One study a little while ago concluded that it would actually be cheaper to send these children to private boarding schools than it is to keep them in care homes. I wonder why we do not do that?


Another of my hobby horses. I recently heard a BBC news programme dealing with the problem of volcanic dust and another TV programme dealing with the air attacks on Britain during the war. In the first they talked about the scientists investigating ways in which aero engines might be modified to see if they could be made to tolerate the dust, in the other they talked about the German scientists that developed the V1 and V2 weapons.

Scientists do not design and develop aero engines and scientists do not design and develop flying bombs or intercontinental ballistic missiles. Neither were they the principal professional staff involved in putting a man on the moon, nor do they design and build power stations, nuclear or otherwise, design and develop digital TV, cars - electric or other, windmills, tidal power systems, aeroplanes, railway locomotives, or any of the other manufactured artefacts that have had such an impact on modern life and our standard of living. This is the role of the engineer, the scientist may research fundamental phenomena but the engineer takes the results of that research and generates practical applications, often having to undertake further research in the process.

Why do the media and the general public prefer to use the term 'scientist' when they really mean 'engineer'? Unfortunately this goes to lower the status of the engineer, giving him a lower status than that of scientist. This seems to be a characteristic of UK society that is almost unique in western nations, and we are a nation that seriously undervalues the contribution of its engineers. In countries like Germany, Japan and the US, engineers are held in much greater esteem, the result in terms of their national prosperity are clear for us all to see.

These days the 'formation' of an engineer is a process that is at least as challenging intellectually and in duration as that for a medical doctor. It requires a university education to masters level, involving an understanding of advanced physics, maths, computing and certain aspects of chemical sciences along with developed creative design capability, with, perhaps some further postgraduate study, probably for PhD, a practical training programme, preferably an apprenticeship, and postgraduate experience under the supervision of a chartered engineer for two or three years. At that stage he can be proposed for membership of one of the chartered engineering institutions and become a chartered engineer.

Chartered status is unlikely to be achieved below the age of about 27.

The term 'Chartered Engineer' is not widely used, however, and, in this country, everybody is an engineer, from the guy that installs your telephone or the man that sharpens your lawnmower to the men that designed 'Concorde'. Within the engineering profession there are three principal grades: craftsmen, skilled in manual operations, technicians and engineers. Unfortunately these demarcations are not widely appreciated and, in this country, the term 'engineer' seems to apply to all of them as well as the completely unqualified. In many countries the term 'engineer' is limited to those properly qualified and is protected by law.

Financial rewards for engineers are good but they often fall short of those for some other professions with a similar or, in many cases, less demanding formation process. In the past we have been fortunate in that there has been a number of people driven by a genuine interest in engineering that have persevered despite the lack of proper recognition or reward and we had an engineering record to be proud of. As systems have become more advanced technically the need for engineers to be highly qualified has increased. Unfortunately the attitude of our governments towards manufacturing industry and the public lack of regard has discouraged some would be engineers and many qualified engineers have found that their mathematical and analytical skills are better appreciated and rewarded in other businesses. This is a great shame because engineering offers the opportunity for girls as well as boys for an interesting and satisfying career. If we are going to revitalise our manufacturing industries, however, there needs to be a change in public and government attitudes and a need for the media, especially the BBC to distinguish between the roles of scientists and engineers.


"If someone betrays you, it's their fault; if they betray you twice, it's your fault"

Eleanor Roosevelt US First Lady (1884 - 1962)

Ron Watts

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