UTCs – a revolution in technical education

This week the government approved a further 15 University Technical Colleges (UTCs). This raises the total number of projects to 34. Two UTCs are open, three more will start this September, with the rest opening in the following two years.

The concept of UTCs was the brainchild of Lord Baker and Lord Dearing, who won the support of the then Education Minister, Lord Adonis. The first two UTCs were agreed by the last government and the coalition government embraced the idea. The number of UTCs in the pipeline now exceeds the government’s ambition to create 24 by 2014.

For the past four years, the Baker Dearing Educational Trust (BDT) has been working with the Department for Education, local employers, universities and further education colleges to develop a national network of UTCs.

UTCs are new, state funded, full-time secondary schools for 14-19 year olds of all abilities. They are being established under the government’s academies programme and they have strong cross-party political support. They offer highly regarded, technically-orientated courses of study and are equipped to the highest standard.

A UTC must be supported by a university and local employers who are involved with governance, who help with student teaching and mentoring, and who shape the specialist curriculum. FE colleges are playing a crucial role in many UTCs as they recognise the need for this specialist offering. UTC leavers at 19 will be well prepared to make the best of either higher education or proper apprenticeships. This will give them a flying start for a great career.
UTCs typically operate a longer school day from 8.30am until 5.30pm . For 40 per cent of the time, or two days each week, pre-16 students follow a technical curriculum and for 60 per cent – three days – they pursue the academic study needed to support the technical, including English, maths, science, a working foreign language and the history and geography of industry, invention and innovation. These ratios are reversed post -16, with the technical curriculum taking up three days a week. The whole curriculum is designed to link the hand with the mind. A wide range of extra-curricular activities completes the picture. UTCs have five 8 week terms amounting to 40 weeks per year rather than the usual 38. The extended day and the shorter holidays mean that over a four year period a whole extra year and a half of teaching is provided.

There is a severe shortage of capital in the current recession. We realise that we can no longer afford glamorous school buildings with splendid atriums. But what matters is that teachers can teach and students can learn in facilities that work and with modern technical equipment.

BDT has secured the government’s agreement to a capital expenditure programme that allows UTCs to be developed along these lines, often by remodelling existing redundant educational buildings. Our business partners are proving to be most generous with the supply of equipment as they believe in what UTCs are doing. UTCs will be housed in business-like buildings doing a business-like job. They should be fit for purpose and affordable to maintain.

The successful UTC applications announced this week are linked to over 200 employers. They have a wide geographical spread: from Warwick UTC, supported by Jaguar Land Rover, specialises in engineering with digital technology; to MediaCityUK UTC on Salford Quays, supported by The Lowry, BBC, ITV and The Aldridge Foundation, specialises in creative and digital technologies, and entrepreneurship, to Cambridge UTC, supported by Cambridge University Hospitals and Napp Pharmaceuticals, which specialises in bio-medical and environmental science and technology. Norfolk UTC in Norwich, supported by East Anglia Offshore Wind, specialises in energy skills; Heathrow UTC, supported by British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and the RAF, specialises in aviation engineering; and Elstree UTC, supported by The Meller Educational Trust and Elstree Studios, specialises in entertainment and digital technologies and crafts.

These projects have all been backed by local employers who need the skills that the students will acquire and a university which will ensure academic rigour and a high status.

We are constantly told of the need for growth in our economy. We must produce enough of our own engineers to staff the businesses that will generate this growth. Employers up and down the country tell us that they cannot get enough work-ready, energetic, skilled young people to become highly valued technicians and engineers. UTCs will not plug this gap overnight, but this programme is a great start. Our intention is that young people leaving our UTCs will all have the potential to become the CEOs of the future.

Charles Parker CEO,
Baker Dearing Educational Trust

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