A programme to bring 3D printers into state school classrooms to boost the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM), and design and technology is to be extended by the government.
3D printing is now beginning to become an established industrial technology used for prototyping and manufacturing products and components across a range of industries.
But it is a new concept in schools and last year the Department for Education funded a project to allow 21 secondaries to trial the use of the printers in STEM and design and technology classes.
Some school science departments have already used the 3D printer as a context to discuss the properties of plastics, to build models for teaching science such as molecules, eyeballs, cells and sine waves, and to build components for working equipment such as rockets.
Following the success of the trial, education secretary Michael Gove is bringing the technology into more schools - setting up a £500,000 fund so up to 60 teaching schools can buy 3D printers and train teachers to use them effectively.
Gove said: "3D printers are revolutionising manufacturing and it is vital that we start teaching the theory and practice in our schools. The extension of the 3D printer programme follows the success of trials in 21 schools which used them in lessons."
A report into the pilot said that so far in the UK, 3D printers had been restricted largely to design and technology classes, but that there was “considerable potential for them to be used within a range of STEM subjects, for example to enable links to be made between mathematics, design and physics".
The pilot schools reported that early work with the printer was often limited to demonstrations and printing of small files such as 3D shapes. This highlighted the need for good training of teachers, which is why part of the money will be for continuing professional development (CPD), said the government.
The extra 3D printer funding covers the rest of this academic year and 2014 to 2015.