The government has today announced its support for 13 more University Technical Colleges (UTCs). Five of the new colleges are operating with a further 12 opening this year, 15 next year and 13 in 2015.
This brings the total number of colleges with approval to 45 which by 2015 will be able to educate 27,000 students in both vocational and academic skills.
“Today’s announcement shows a continuing growth in the size and impact of the UTC movement,” said Lord Baker, founder of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust (BDET) which promotes the schools.
“I am delighted that UTCs enjoy all-party support and that the Coalition has continued to back them.”
UTCs differ from regular secondary schools in a number of key ways. They are removed from local authority control like academies and free schools but differ in that they must involve a university and local businesses and have a special vocational focus.
The businesses help shape the curriculum by designing projects for the students to work on, often actively teaching classes as well as assessing and checking the quality of the student’s practical work.
University involvement is also essential as it provides UTC’s, which follow full working hours, with real academic rigour. They also offer new schools a ‘reputational buffer’ that appeals to parents who are considering the difficult decision of changing their child’s school at a non-conventional age.
They have been running since 2010 and hope to remedy the worrying lack of skills in engineering and technical subjects that the UK faces. So far the program has involved more than 400 companies and 40 universities.
Charles Parker, CEO of the BDET said: “We are setting up schools that are demand led from the regions – this is not some great mandarin on high pushing policy down from Whitehall.
“It is a competitive process as businesses have to show that there is employment demand for the skills in the region and that they have sufficiently engaged with the parents of local 13-12 year olds to be sure that when the school is up and running enough children want to attend.”
For every two potential schools that get through the Baker Dearing UTC vetting process one does not pass their tests. The response from the engineering community has been strongly in favour of the institutes as a way to help bridge the shortfall in the number of engineers coming through the UK’s education system.
Professor Steve Cowley, CEO of Culham Centre for Fusion Energy and of UK Atomic Energy Authority said: “We continue to have problems in recruiting the skilled technical staff needed to maintain and expand our work programmes. UTCs, coupled with suitable employment and further development opportunities, will greatly assist in addressing skill shortages.”
“We believe that the UTC model will be able to cater for the diversity of SMEs that we have in the South West and will be a significant way to encourage those graduating from the UTC to seek employment in the region,” said Tony Wiltshire, director, Centrax Turbine Components.
“Centrax will play a role in helping with placements, projects, case studies and industrial exposure for students.”
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