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John Warner School receives the first Schools and Clubs Engineering Challenge award

News Team

Earlier this year, the Institution’s Trustee Board Awards Committee responded to requests from members to provide funding to schools or clubs wishing to undertake engineering education activities to inspire youngsters. The first of these awards has just been made to the John Warner School in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. The school received £1,000 to help with its Vex Robotic Club.

Vex robotics has recently arrived in the UK from America, and it encourages students to use science, technology and engineering skills in a competitive environment, which increases motivation and the desire to succeed. Students design, build and then control robots that can overcome a particular practical challenge, such as moving bean bags into troughs at different heights. The robots are remotely controlled by the students, and the design requires mechanical engineering skills to ensure that the robot can lift, move and manoeuvre the objects as required. The students work in teams that have to produce log books, and then compete against other teams from within their school and beyond.

The John Warner School’s robotics team, The Control Freaks, has competed locally, regionally and nationally. They also have taken their Vex robotics into local primary schools, U3A groups, charities and businesses. This has all helped make engineering one of the most popular subjects at school, with students becoming keen, able and excited at the prospect of becoming the engineers of the future. The Control Freaks is the coolest club in school!

Stuart Higham runs the robotics club and is the subject leader for engineering at John Warner School.  He has been encouraging the young engineers and building enthusiasm for engineering within the school. He has also encouraged local business to get involved with the young engineers, helping build links between education and business, hopefully leading to apprenticeships and work experience opportunities. His promotion of engineering has been so enthusiastic that many of his students have chosen to take up engineering at school and look for engineering apprenticeships.  Indeed, the students turn up every lunch time and stay after school until after 6pm most days to work on the robots because of the interest and enthusiasm that Stuart brings to the subject.

Stuart is supported by Jennifer Smith EngTech MIMechE, a Senior Product Definition Engineer at MBDA UK.  A noted and committed volunteer for education, as Jennifer Harvey, she was the IMechE Apprentice of the Year and a President’s Apprentice in 2011. 

The Control Freaks will use the funding to expand the club to include more students. They need ‘starter packs’ for new teams and a steady supply of the consumables such as batteries, sensors and micro controllers – which tend to have short lifetimes. The club is also keen to continue promoting engineering through Vex robotics locally to schools and business. And having won at the national level, they are now itching to compete internationally. All these additional activities will be facilitated by the Institution’s grant.

The cheque for £1,000 was presented by Richard Folkson, IMechE Fellow and Trustee, and Kate Bellingham, ex-Tomorrow’s World presenter and a very enthusiastic STEM Ambassador. Folkson said: “The school, staff and students were all very impressive and I was delighted to see the level of enthusiasm for science and engineering, particularly amongst girls at the school.  It was a highly successful visit and I was glad I was able to go and present the cheque to such worthy recipients.”

If you would like to find out more about these awards please visit: 

To keep up to date with the latest from John Warner School’s Vex Robotics activities:



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