The Budget has backed the expansion of vocational education facilities by doubling the number of University Technical Colleges planned by the end of 2015. Peter Mitchell, CEO of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust comments on the Chancellor’s decision.
Peter Mitchell, CEO of The Baker Dearing Trust, the supporting body for the establishment of the UK UTC network: One of the unique features of UTCs [University Technical Colleges providing vocational education for 14 to 19 year olds] is that their curricula are being driven by employers and what employers need. Not by what educationalists think they need.
We are delighted with the decision to double the number of planned UTCs because; with the initial level of 12 we would have achieved an interesting experiment in this employer led education, however, it is unlikely they would have exerted the systemic influence which we hope they will have. The Chancellor’s decision is important because it moves us into the realms where we can hope to have a significant influence on the education system in this country.
The Chancellor has clearly realised that UTCs have a major role to play in the growth of the economy. At the moment we have a massive shortage of highly skilled technicians, from graduate level downwards. The current education simply does not seem capable of consistently supplying those while UTCs are, at their most fundamental level, all about supplying the right kind of people to take the economy forward.
There is no grand plan as to what sectors or skills the additional 12 colleges will focus on because the great thing about UTCs is that they are driven locally, responding to local needs. This being the case, it is not for me, or anyone else sitting in London to decide that, for example, Teesside needs a UTC focusing on, construction or engineering or anything else. Local employers must decide what their area needs to specialise in.
“What is true however, is that while the first 10 colleges have naturally created a good geographical spread, there are one or two gaps and we will be interested to fill those. Two significant gaps that I currently see are in the Leeds and Manchester areas.
As this new expansion goes ahead the baker Dearing trust will have two major functions. Firstly we will continue our work to engender interest in establishing UTCs and helping applications go through the Department [for Education]. We are now moving to a stage however, where we need to consider our support for those UTCs that are opened or opening. This will include curriculum support, guidance on how to respond to government issues and so on. The aim being to ensure that there is a consistently high level in the delivery of education.
The support work for open colleges will be challenging since it will induce the typical conflict between centralised and local control but we hope that we will strike a good balance by working with people rather than imposing a top down model.
Where appropriate we will certainly be utilising the knowledge of national bodies such as the sector skills councils to support employer-college relationships and curriculum building. Cogent, for instance, has been very influential in establishing the Walsall UTC.
As far as the money for this expansion is concerned, it is not clear exactly where it is coming from but, importantly it seems to be entirely new. This is not money that has been transferred from one area of the education budget to another.