Pupils find winning formula with Royal Navy link up - Gordon Cooper

In the autumn of 2021 Knightswood Secondary School became involved in something of an experiment with four major organisations; the Royal Navy, the RAF, Rolls Royce and Thales which were all keen to promote engineering and develop future skills.

Each bought a Greenpower F24 electric car and sought a school to mentor through the construction process. This would be part of the overarching STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) philosophy of embedding real-life context in education.

Knightswood Secondary was linked to the Royal Navy, and on week one I loaded ten senior pupils onto the school minibus and delivered them to the Strathclyde University Manufacturing site in Renfrew, not entirely sure what lay ahead. There we met Commander Dave Pinder and his STEM engagement team of engineers, seconded to work with schools around the country. Highly-trained specialists in their own fields, these young navy personnel proved to be outstanding role models for the students and their light supervision, advice and training enabled the pupils to take the lead and work as young apprentices in an adult environment.

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Sixteen weeks later we had taken five large boxes full of parts and transformed them into a well-engineered electric car, and I had a group of super-enthused students. Rarely have I seen a project to which pupils have so willingly given up their own time to undertake and which has benefited them to such an extent. The pupils had of necessity become a well-organised team with a project manager and pairs focussed on the brake system, steering and electrical specialists, or “Sparks” as they love to be known.

Gordon Cooper, Knightswood Secondary SchoolGordon Cooper, Knightswood Secondary School
Gordon Cooper, Knightswood Secondary School

The Greenpower kits cost between £3500-£4000 and provide a scale of project well beyond the reach of our school budget. Once complete, our S6 project manager, Calvin Turner, liaised with local company, Aaron Wolf, which provided decals free of charge. These put the finishing touches on the car with gold decals against the black body à la Formula 1 1970s JPS!

With the car complete we needed a challenge. The Jackie Stewart Classic Festival of Motoring was held at Thirlestane Castle in June 2022 – a huge weekend event to raise money for Alzheimer’s and a true gathering of motoring history and now, with electric karts perhaps a harbinger of the future we entered the timed event for these, and Knightswood’s answer to the dominant Red Bull Team was now in competition with other schools, colleges and universities.

So what next? Fortunately a brand new organisation, the Jim Clark Trust Scottish Electric Chariot Championship is setting up a series of events. Competing will both focus and challenge the team; seeking out willing collaborators, keeping track of finances, nurturing links with industry and seeking sponsorship to enable us to transport the car, purchase new tyres, buy materials for the bodywork, gloves, crash helmets and overalls, which the school budget just couldn’t cover.

The key takeaway from the project has been the learning experiences that our pupils packed in and the journey they’ve been on. The fantastic rapport that developed between the pupils and their Navy mentors continues to this day. If any business or individual reading this can contribute towards a similar kart for their local school and has the time to become involved, you’re guaranteed to enjoy it as much as the students!

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