In August the JCB Academy – the original University Technical College – celebrated as its first set of GCSE students achieved results which left national averages far behind them. James Gratton, a star performer among this high achieving group, explains how a UTC education helped him get the grades to match his career ambitions.
Two years of study at the JCB Academy have been an interesting, insightful and, above all, different experience.
I first heard about the JCB Academy three years ago and felt inspired to follow a career in engineering. One year later I was a student there and ready to follow through on my aspirations – but this was not without its problems.
One of the biggest challenges at the start was this big leap into the unknown. Myself and around 119 students had left behind the safety and comfort of our previous schools to go to a new building, meet new people and work in an entirely new world.
A major difference at the academy was the way that our learning was structured and the contact we had with staff.
Our year group was split into three groups, known as houses, of 40 pupils. Our engineering and business lessons were done with the whole group while for other lessons such as English and Maths, we were taught in smaller groups of 20.
The engineering and business sessions were led by our engineering leader, who also led the house overall, and supported by engineering mentors, who have engineering backgrounds.
Everyone was assigned to an engineering mentor who they would have regular meeting with and who would sit with the house at lunch. At the end of the two years we had become a close knit group and had all learnt a lot from each other despite having mixed interests and abilities.
Over two years we developed our engineering skills for our diploma qualifications and prepared for our GCSE’s.
I think one of the best things about the diplomas was that even though some people chose not to continue with engineering after two years, they still had valuable and important skills they could transfer into their other studies as well as an understanding of what an engineer’s career might involve.
One of the other best things about the way we studied was that, although the grades were important, our teachers were flexible in letting us decide how we did the necessary work.
For example, we did practical lessons with lathes in the workshops. Those that were good and happy to do it were pushed to do better while those that were not so confident would work on additional coursework. These workshop classes helped several people get into apprenticeships.
The school allowed us both freedom and support for our Year 11 engineering projects. My project focused on innovation – the invention, design and manufacture of a new product. My engineering mentor guided me while the engineering workshop staff helped me with the variety of machines available.
I definitely want to follow through engineering and work in the sector, but I’m not sure exactly where to go from here. Hopefully I can decide this during my time at the sixth form. I would like to be a designer and inventor like James Dyson and have found I’m very good at it. The JCB Academy has certainly helped get me closer to that ambition and with some good grades now in the bag I hope I continue to progress quickly.