Definitely not! We need to make high quality technical education work in the U.K. We already have a model which is far and away better than anything we have ever given young people before. That is the University Technical Colleges (UTC) programme. There are now 40+ of these Colleges open. Yes, some are struggling which is what prompted Michael Gove recently to suggest starting again. However there are seeds of success emerging and some real successful flowering, preeminent amongst them Reading UTC which is rated Ofsted outstanding.
This morning I was privileged to visit the London Design & Engineering UTC (LDEUTC) now in its first year and situated adjacent to The University of East London (UEL) in Docklands. Still in temporary accommodation however both year 10 and 12 are full, girls are well represented and applications for next year are more than 4:1 oversubscribed. I met two students, one in year 12 and one in year 10, who travelled 90 minutes to LDE daily for the opportunities on offer and they all do a 9-5 day as with all UTCs. LDE partnerships include the UEL of course, also LEGO, Fujitsu, Thames Water and others. Opportunities abound for the students from these links. Each student has a business mentor. We saw students involved in their Extended Project Qualifications (EPQs) which are half an A Level all practical projects ranging from work with local primary school children in the Lego lab to working robotic arms to deliver products. There was a bank of 3D printers nothing unusual there but never before have I been told they were made by the students! This is fast becoming the most highly technical school in the country and they do not neglect the Arts. Creativity is fundamental to design and engineering. Students showed us a series of published novels produced in a week by year 10. See more on National Book Day. We are a nation of thinkers and designers so STEM must include the A for sustainable success.
STEM initiatives need to bring in the girls and I suspect the inclusion of the Arts to make STEAM would help here. Another initiative I came across recently from the Girls School Association (GSA) will take their physics teachers into local state schools to fill a vacuum that sadly exists. Partnerships between schools whether state or independent are essential if we are to close the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged; the town and coastal areas.
As one of the Senior Education Advisers on UTCs from 2013-15, I am well aware of the difficulties the model faces. Recruitment at Year 10 is fraught. It takes a lot to make a move at that age and local heads are naturally against. I gather Year 9 entry is now being seriously considered. It is easier to move schools after just two secondary years and gives enough time to adapt into a three year GCSE programme including industry wide projects. This is sensible news. The other issue was UTCs’ isolation. To enable them to join Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) which contain a variety of schools would give the UTC a place for children from any of the MAT schools who would benefit. Partnerships are essential for UTCs to blossom further and find their place as a valued pathway for our budding engineers.
So look out for LDE on National Book Day and all UTCs in National Apprenticeship Week in March. Let’s adapt an excellent initiative that is already benefiting our youngsters and British industry. No going back to square one again.