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Former Labour Schools Minister visits University Technical College in Dartford

Former Labour Schools Minister Lord Jim Knight last week saw how “fabulous” Dartford students were prepared for technical careers on a visit to The Leigh UTC.

Lord Knight, who served in the Department for Education from 2006 to 2009, was given a tour of the University Technical College and its feeder school, The Inspiration Academy, by Principal Kevin Watson.

The academy and UTC are secondary schools that allow students to study technical subjects alongside English, maths, and science from ages 11 to 18.

Simon Beamish, Chief Executive of the UTC’s parent body The Leigh Academies Trust, also attended the visit, as did representatives of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust which supports the 44-strong national network of University Technical Colleges.

Students showcase project work to Lord Knight

Lord Knight was shown several of the academy’s classes, including maths and PE, before the group moved to The Leigh UTC, which stands on the same site as the academy on Brunel Way.

UTC student Jack showed Lord Knight a cantilever toolbox he had created and explained how he had decided what materials to use and how it could be maintained.

Lord Knight operating the cantilever toolbox that a student has presented.

Another learner, Imogen, discussed how she had approached Watson with an ambition to design a building for the school site to pursue her interest in architecture.

Lord Knight asked her about the gender stereotypes around engineering and Imogen said there were negative misconceptions. However, she appreciated the opportunity to study engineering at the UTC, as well as how its STEM Club offered enrichment opportunities including trips.

BTEC defunding concerns raised by UTC and Baker Dearing

Following the government’s decision to remove public funding from Applied General qualifications including BTECs, Lord Knight was told this will have a serious impact on sixth forms in Kent.

Lord Knight speaking with The Leigh UTC Principal Kevin Watson (right), Baker Dearing Director of Education and Innovation Kate Ambrosi (centre-left), and Baker Dearing Senior Advisor Steve Leahey (left).

One of the reasons for the defunding is to shift emphasis onto the government’s T Level qualifications, which were rolled out in 2020 as technical education equivalents to A-levels.

While T Levels have been welcomed by the UTC programme and form a major part of The Leigh UTC’s post-16 curriculum, Baker Dearing Senior Advisor and the UTC’s former principal Stephen Leahey discussed how universities have been reluctant to accept T Levels for their undergraduate courses. This is because the universities want students to have studied maths at post-16 before progressing to a technical degree course.

Lord Knight was then shown the T Level facilities and presented with a knight chess piece machined for him by The Leigh UTC’s students.

Following his visit, Lord Knight commented:

“I was pleased to meet students and staff on a visit to The Leigh UTC. They are a fabulous advertisement for the UTC movement.

“It was great to witness how the state-of-the-art equipment and high-quality teaching provided by UTCs is not only helping students produce brilliant work but is making those young people ready to join the workforce.

“Speaking to UTC students who are overcoming gender stereotypes about the engineering field and learning how the UTC is addressing factors such as deprivation has also enhanced my thinking about those topics.”

The Leigh UTC Principal Kevin Watson commented:

“It was great to welcome Lord Knight to our UTC. Our students and staff are excellent ambassadors for the benefits of high-quality technical education.

“So it is a pleasure to demonstrate to visitors what learners achieve at school and what they have to potential to achieve once they progress to their next destination.

“A fifth of The Leigh UTC’s leavers at Year 13 progressed to an apprenticeship last year and over two-thirds progressed to university. The ambitious projects that our students showed Lord Knight really are just the start of what our young people will achieve.”