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UTCs at the cutting edge

Recent estimates suggest that some 70% of engineers in the UK will be reaching retirement age in the next 10 years. This is a frightening figure, especially as we need to compete with other countries with younger workforces.

The University of Warwick’s Institute for Employment Research estimates that engineering companies will require 265,000 skilled entrants every year through to 2024, and of these about 186,000 will be qualified engineers. This is not just to replace those who retire but also to upskill young people for future projects as we develop new and greener sources of energy.

‘There is a marvellous opportunity for young people in the next seven years to fill gaps in employment,’ says Stewart Tait, Associate Principal of WMG Academy Solihull, one of the most successful UTCs in England

What’s different about UTCs?

University Technical Colleges (UTCs) are specialist schools for 14-19 year-olds. What makes them different from other schools is that they deliver technical education as well as core curriculum subjects. For example, at Energy Coast UTC in Cumbria students will study for GCSEs in English language, English literature, maths, chemistry, biology and physics and one option which might be geography, history, sport, ICT or business studies.

In addition, they do three engineering qualifications: level 2 Design Engineer Construct (DEC)- a civil engineering qualification, a level 2 BTEC in Engineering and a level 2 practical apprenticeship diploma in Performing Engineering Operations (PEO). This might include preparing and using CNC lathes, assembling pipework systems, preparing and using manual Oxy/fuel gas welding equipment. So, they have the same qualifications as other 16 year olds but first rate technical skills as well.

The UTCs are ground-breaking. Students work a full business day from 8.30 to at least 4.30 and divide their time between school, work experience and projects with some of the UK’s top employers such as Jaguar Land Rover, Morgan Syndal , British Airways and Sellafield.

They also work with cutting-edge technology, sometimes the latest machines which are not yet affordable for many companies. This means that they are well-placed to find employment, an apprenticeship or get onto the top- rated degree courses because they have the skills and experience which candidates from non-specialist schools lack.

Students at UTC Heathrow benefit from a wide range of opportunities outside the classroom. They are involved in a five-year project to build their own plane, take part in a variety of Cadet activities and a UTC Heathrow team won the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) Craftsman Cup.

Exam results are impressive too. UTC Coventry is the only sixth form in the city to be rated ‘well above average’ – placing it in top 5% of sixth forms in England. They are also the Number 1 state school in Coventry for students achieving a minimum of AAB at A-level.

At KS4 74.5% achieved a 9-4/A*-C at GCSE (compared with 69% national average) while 75% were awarded grades 9-4 in both English and maths GCSE (compared with 60.2% Coventry average).

But their success goes beyond national curriculum subjects. UTCs are exceptionally good at getting students into apprenticeships, onto degree courses in STEM subjects and into jobs as technicians or engineers.

Data shows that UTC leavers are five times more likely to progress into advanced and higher apprenticeships, and almost twice as likely to take STEM courses at university as students from other schools.

OFSTED appreciates the difference a UTC education can make. In June 2019, they inspected Energy Coast UTC and commented: ‘They have had first-rate careers guidance and many excellent opportunities to develop high-quality skills, which makes them very employable. Pupils leaving the UTC are exceptionally well prepared for the next stages in education, employment and training.’