Ann Watson, MD of awarding body EAL, expresses her hopes and concerns for university technical colleges and vocational education
In its December edition TM investigated plans for at least 40 university technical colleges (UTCs) to be established across Britain, providing a strong base for sound 14-19 vocational education in tune with industry needs. The JCB Academy has set the precedent for the education format and there are several projects well underway and due to open in September 2011. For Ann Watson however it is vital to the strength of vocation education routes that the appeal and purpose of these institutions is communicated effectively and that certain preconceptions about who is suited vocational education are cast aside.
Watson says: “While I am encouraged by much of what Lord Baker had to say, I sincerely hope that UTCs are successful at tackling ‘snobbery against vocational training’. The Government has clearly placed vocational skills firmly within their sights, and makes no secret of the fact that it sees manufacturing and engineering as the key to securing the UK’s economic future. Therefore to have a meaningful impact, UTCs need to create long-term opportunities for students long after they have left the classroom.”
Watson goes on to say: “Many of our captains of industry started life as apprentices, so UTCs need to attract children of all capabilities and with different ambitions. We need to see students who have an interest in developing their skills-set, and with a flair for the practical, not use vocational training as a way of siphoning-off those who are disaffected by the traditional academic offering. This is especially true if we are to avoid, as many fear, creating a two-tiered secondary school system at such an early age.”
Watson believes that UTCs could, if executed effectively, have tangible benefits for employers, as students will already have a firm grasp on the skills which are vital to future training and development.
Watson concludes with: “An over-emphasis placed on the academic route post-18 has, for the last 13 years, created inequalities among young people which are only starting to emerge now. While I appreciate concerns that UTCs may be seen to be forcing young people to make serious decisions at an early age, it is vital that advice must be clear, unbiased and fully involve parents. A firm commitment must be made to maintaining standards in academic subjects, such as English and Maths, alongside the technical. This will leave both options open to students, should they change their mind at the end of their study.”