With its doors opening later this year, Britain’s first regional Academy looks to offer tomorrow’s manufacturers a viable alternative to the traditional, jack of all trades curriculum. Edward Machin finds that digger maker JCB continues to do things a little differently…
I never let my school interfere with my education, quipped Mark Twain. Author of the Great American Novel, President-befriending socialite and amateur scientist, Twain was, however, yet to visit the JCB Academy. Had he done so, a man of his legendary capacity to invent would have found much to admire, for little about the Academy is anodyne. With an educational year consisting of five terms of eight weeks in length and a uniform including boiler suits and work boots, students will not, it is fair to say, be attending their father’s school.
We shouldn’t be altogether surprised at JCB’s education initiative, however given that the company has long demonstrated its commitment to fostering interest in manufacturing among Britain’s youngsters. Together with sponsoring countless Young Enterprise/Engineer Schemes, Technology Competitions, Industry Days and ‘Maths in Action’ events, JCB holds strategic partnerships with a raft of higher education providers. These include Thomas Alleyne’s and Burton College, as well as Harper Adams, Loughborough, Warwick and Edinburgh universities.
An academy of its own was, it seems, JCB’s next logical step. With a genesis stretching back to 2006, it is expected to represent, in the words of Paul Pritchard, head of the JCB Academy Project, “The culmination of a drive to create a long term platform to regenerate manufacturing and engineering in Britain.”
No trouble at’ mill
Situated adjacent to JCB’s headquarters in Rocester, Staffordshire, the Academy will be parthoused in the Grade II listed Tutbury Mill, with a new annexe housing the main classrooms. Built in 1871 by Industrial Revolution entrepreneur Richard Arkwright, who is widely credited with inventing the water frame, renovation of the picturesque site began in December 2009.
When fully refurbished and regenerated, the eco-friendly facility will feature purpose-built engineering areas, equipped with both CAD and CAM technology for use by the students. Power for the site will be supplied by an Archimedes screw — which, when fitted to the mill race, will utilise water from the River Dove to turn the screw and power a generator. Coupled with a biomass boiler, rainwater harvesting technology and photovoltaic cells, the Academy is set to offer a uniquely energy selfsufficient place of learning for students, faculty and the JCB partners alike.
Preparing for its first intake of budding engineers in September, the £22m Academy embodies what a growing number of people in industry hold as education’s joined-up, handson future. “When we come out of this recession, Britain will need technicians and engineering skills.
The JCB Academy will undoubtedly help to meet such needs,” says one such advocate, former Conservative education minister Lord Baker.
“We have never educated enough engineers in this country, and the JCB Academy will provide magnificent training, given that it is the sort of college that links the mind and hand.” Crucially, says Lord Baker: “What is unique about the JCB Academy is that youngsters will choose to come here aged 14, not when they are 11. Eleven is too early, and 16 too late.” With 90% of its budget being provided by The Department for Children, Schools and Families, JCB is contributing the remaining 10% of capital funding for the independent, all-ability Academy. Established in 2000 by Tony Blair under the banner of “city” academies, prospective schools are required to raise an initial £2m, usually provided by a private organisation, philanthropist, faith or voluntary group.
To date, 80 of the 120 places for its first intake have been filled, with the Academy projected to reach its full capacity of 540 students by September 2013. Pupils will be selected from a catchment area of Derbyshire, Derby City, Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, with local partner schools including Thomas Alleynes (13-19 years), Burton College (Further Education College) and Harper Adams University College (Higher Education). Since its inception, moreover, the Academy has worked in conjunction with industrial leaders such as Rolls- Royce, Toyota, Bombardier and Network Rail to plan, design and finance both the Academy and its scholastic structure.
Homework? Not here…
Arguably the most innovative aspect of JCB’s Academy — the building, ethos and educational programme aside — remains its hands-on, uniquely engineering-centric syllabus. While focused largely on the Diploma, a new qualification for 14-19 year olds which sits alongside GCSEs, A levels and Apprenticeships, the curriculum will nonetheless include aspects of traditional higher education programmes. Students in years 10 and 11 will, for example, work towards GCSEs in Mathematics, English, Science, Modern Foreign Languages and Information Communication Technology.
These will be supplemented by classes in physical education; citizenship; enterprise education; careers education and guidance; religious education; and personal, health and social education.
Introduced in 2005 by the Government’s 14-19 Education and Skills White Paper, the Diploma accreditation offers industry-relevant learning through a combination of practical skills development with theoretical and technical understanding. As such, JCB Academy students will undertake project-based Diplomas in Engineering and Business, Administration and Finance — the former introducing students to the engineering world, its technologies and future, while the Diploma in Business offers modules in accounting, effective business administration and responsible business practices, among others.
Sixth form students will study for Advanced Diplomas in either Engineering or Business; equivalent to three and a half A levels each.
According to Dr Geoff Parks, senior engineering lecturer at Cambridge University, this will provide, “Exciting opportunities for young people to develop the knowledge and skills that will put them on the path to higher education and successful careers in industries vital to this country’s economic wellbeing.” Offering a more rounded curriculum than years 10 and 11, however, sixth form students can choose complementary A levels in subjects such as design and technology, economics, accounting, and further mathematics — but also art, English literature, ethics and philosophy, performance studies, photography and psychology.
Delivered and funded in conjunction with the JCB commercial partners, each term will be based around an engineering challenge, designed to introduce specific aspects of production and business performance processes. The Toyota challenge, for example, will see students working with CNC tools to manufacture valves in accordance with the company’s strict quality control standards.
To enable work on such projects, pupils will be provided with a mini laptop PC — theirs to keep upon graduation. Indeed, laptops are essential for students to access their learning, with all assignments and materials provided in an electronic form. Working in teams to plan each unit of work, the Academy’s hours are more like a business’s than traditional schools and sixth form colleges, meaning that there will be little, if any, homework.
Platitudes continue unabated for the Academy, with Staffordshire county councilor, Philip Atkins, praising the project as, “Excellent news for Rocester, young people in the area, and the engineering and manufacturing industries as a whole.” Even so, the accusation that the school may be poaching the best of local talent for its intake is one that cannot be ignored. Academy Principal, Jim Wade, responds,
“We are providing an unrivalled opportunity to those young people whose aspirations are to be engineers and business leaders of the future — you would hope that schools do not wish to take that opportunity away from them.” “Students at the Academy will leave with both top class qualifications, should they wish to pursue academia further, and a range of skills that will optimise their employability,” he says. “For example, the ability to work in a team environment and solve ‘real’ problems within industry-leading organisations, which represents the crux of our curriculum, will ensure that students are ideally placed to be effective participants in whichever businesses they choose to enter.” And there lies the rub. Children with a burning penchant for the arts or humanities may, understandably, be better catered for elsewhere.
But for youngsters such as Cameron Platts, 13, who says, “I want to go into a career working with cars, and I think the academy will be really good for me to be able to achieve that,” the academy is an obvious choice. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find a more innovative, talent-nurturing and opportunityladen environment than the JCB Academy in which to realise their dreams of engineering success. Given the oft-repeated calls to engage more fundamentally with Britain’s manufacturers of tomorrow, the sector — parents, teachers and students additionally — must be grateful.