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Thursday, 28 March 2013 00:00

Medway wins bid for University Technical College

Government has announced  that Medway will be awarded a new University Technical College (UTC), possibly to  be sited in the Chattenden Barracks area. This is one of 13 in the latest round of UTCs nationally, the previous round awarding another local UTC to be sited in the Ebbsfleet Valley.  To quote David Cameron, University Technical Colleges are planned to "offer 14-19 year olds the opportunity to take a highly regarded, full time, technically-oriented course of study. They are equipped to the highest standard, sponsored by a university and offer clear progression routes into higher education or further learning in work".  The Medway UTC will cater for 14-19 year olds, specialising in engineering and construction, "traditionally at the heart of Medway’s economy", and will be sponsored by the University of Greenwich, MidKent College, Medway Council and local employers. Medway Coumcil states: "work to get the college up and running will start immediately", surely a necessity as the UTC is planned to open in September 2014. As a stand alone institution this looks a sound, well-funded concept, designed to "fill the skills gap in the UK by providing high quality training for technicians and engineers", but.....

 

unfortunately it is not a stand alone institution, for where are its students coming from? I have written about this conundrum before. The new institution is unlikely to attract many students from the grammar schools. There will not be any academic or vocational requirements for admission at age 14. For example the new UTC opening in Sheffield this summer states: "The UTC will not admit students on the basis of selection. In the event that there are more applications than places, there will be an independently verified process of random allocation in order to ensure fairness. The only priority criteria are certain cases of special need". So students need have no technology aptitude and some may well be just escaping from an unhappy schooling so far. The Sheffield UTC also plans to admit students at 16+ with: "5 GCSE passes at A*-C, including English and Maths, for Level 3 courses or 4 GCSE passes at Grade D, or equivalents, including English and Maths, for Level 2 courses". The main difference between the two is that the Sheffield UTC plans to recruit students by random allocation across Sheffield and a range of nearby Yorkshire towns, probably recruiting no more than one or two from any one school. In Medway, the students will come predominantly from eleven non-selective local schools, probably weighted towards those already least popular and least able to hang on to their students. Medway is already in the grip of rapidly falling pupil numbers with one of those schools being over half empty in the new Year 7 intake, another three having over 20% vacancies, all figures likely to rise sharply after successful appeals and waiting list allocations to more popular schools. Currently, there are some 430 vacancies forecast for September, a figure that will surely rise. Unfortunately I don't have precise figures for the relevant age group, the current  Year 8, as Medway has failed once again to supply me with data for a legitimate FOI request. Nevertheless, the way that polarisation of choice works, the schools that will be most hit by what will inevitably be a popular option are those at the bottom of the pile.  So while I agree with Councillor Wicks that "Medway has a rich history of construction and engineering and a college specialising in these subjects will not only continue this tradition, but will also equip a new generation with first class technical skills that will help them pursue careers in these important sectors at all levels. This is great news for the young people of Medway who deserve this opportunity", I search in vain for the strategy to keep viable those schools most at risk  of closure from the initiative.  The concept of the UTC looks excellent and belatedly fills a gap created  by the abolition of technical schools in the 1970s and 80s. However, if it is to recruit across a smaller urban areas such as in Medway it needs to be an integral part of  a planned  structure of schools, which appears not to be the case here. Or perhaps Medway Council takes the view that as the schools at risk are nearly all academies, it has no responsibility for their future.  

Last modified on Sunday, 16 March 2014 17:22

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