It has been just over two years actually since I joined Lord Baker and his team at the Baker Dearing Trust (BDT). Why join? Well these new schools , Universtity Technical Colleges, must be our best hope to establish a highly valued, highly regarded and much needed technical pathway in this country. Business and industry should not be sourcing engineers and technicians from the likes of Germany. So we aim high: to create a new family of schools, a unique educational environment for 14-18 year olds where universities, employers and teachers come together.
Are we succeeding? Yes steadily, slowly the UTCs are being recognised. Firms are queuing up to be involved, they need the employee supply chain. So we have the likes of Jaguar Land Rover, Network Rail, and hundreds of others both big brands and smaller local enterprise. Universities are on board, less clear at first as to their benefits but now recognised, they give the academic credentials and HE access to the UTC courses. Of course they benefit as do young people who take a more practically based route to academic success. We have UCL, South Bank, Bolton and many others across the country.
Each UTC has employers and a university committed to collaboration with the College( UTCs are schools as defined by Ofsted). These external partners commit staff time to work with the teachers to produce project based courses. They solve real issues like Reading UTC students designing the station or Elstree UTC students providing technical expertise to present the MOBO awards. In addition the core curriculum is delivered at GCSE and A Level Level 2 and 3 courses. Students go on to university, higher apprenticeships, jobs. The target for every UTC which has so far been delivered is No NEETs. Now two years on we have 30 open UTCs, a further 30 agreed for opening between 2015-17.
There are issues and challenges of course. Entry at 14 is unusual, a risk for parents, a threat to local school rolls. So numbers are slow to rise although two years on and there are proven exam and destination results to publish. There have been casualties and a minority of Colleges have not succeeded but the vast majority are here to stay. No young people have been disadvantaged by choosing the UTC route this has been a priority for BDT. The range of specialisms in UTCs is huge across construction, health, performing arts and more. Those Colleges specialising in manufacturing find it hard to recruit girls. Girls into engineering is a national challenge still to be won. It must start in the primary schools. Girls are not wooed by hard hats and scaffolding but guess what – engineers do very little of that and lots of design, maths, communication, team building. Girls are great at these skills.
I am sorry to leave the UTC programme now but I will stay in touch. It has been a most rewarding journey travelling with them. It’s been a privilege to work closely with so many as staff and students take up the challenge. Make no mistake this initiative us gaining ground and it is very important that it’s place in our education provision is recognised and valued. It must be here to stay.