Stunning facilities put UTC students ahead of the game

I have just visited the WMG Academy for Young Engineers that has has two University Technical Colleges (UTCs) one in Solihull and the other at Coventry. Students can enrol at the Academy from the age of 14 and, while there is a broad ability range, they all have a passion to create and design. UTCs are specialist schools and deliver technical education alongside core curriculum subjects. At the age of 16 students will take GCSEs in Mathematics, English Language, English Literature, Core and Additional Science (or triple science), plus OCR National in Manufacturing. They can also choose Engineering Systems and Control, Geography, Product Design, Art and Business Studies. I think they are creating a new model for technical education that is long overdue.

Key to their success if their partnership with industry. WMG Academy describes itself as 'business-like, business-led.’ The pace is fast and intense. The school day runs from 8.30am to 4.30pm but it is not uncommon to find students still at work at 6pm. There is no school uniform as such, but they wear suits or smart clothing appropriate to a business environment. They are allowed - and even encouraged - to use mobile phones for research, and to organise their learning, just as they would at work.

Whereas other schools do theory and practical work onsite and have a short block of work experience, industry connections are a central feature at UTCs. WMG Academy has many prestigious engineering partners including Aston Martin, Jaguar Land Rover, Severn Trent, Rolls Royce, National Grid, ARUP, Bosch and Balfour Beatty among others.

Their students do exceptionally well. WMG Academy in Coventry is the best performing sixth form in the city and the only one to be rated ‘well above average’, a rating achieved by only 5% of schools in England. Many students go on to degree level apprenticeships with national and global companies. Their starting salary can be as much as £20,000 to £25,000, their tuition fees are paid and when they finish, they are not saddled with debt.

Real world work experience is a major focus: one of the students is engaged in cyber security and others are gaining experience in aerospace, TV production engineering, rail, chemical engineering and telecommunications. While the school allocates students in years 10 and 11 to particular businesses, in years 12 and 13 they are expected to research, identify and apply for their own placements. They need to become independent learners, take responsibility for their own work, make sure they do not fall behind and this is why EdTech is so important.

At the heart of WMG Academy's EdTech policy is Google Classroom. The advantage for students is that it will work on any device - mobile phone, laptop, home computer or Chrome Books so they can produce work wherever they are - at home, in college, while travelling or in the workplace. The college has a scheme to help students buy devices. There are 2 HP Chrome Books and 2 HP laptops to suit all pockets with a price range of £180 - £700.Claire Carey, Computer Science Lead, is responsible for getting novice students from abstraction to computational thinking in year 10, to writing simple programs in Python and learning how to create networks. They also work on team projects such as building robots that can pick up blocks and build towers.

It would be fair to say that on occasions UTCs have received a mixed response and commentators seem to have missed the point of this new style of education, but certainly the WMG Academies take young people and turn them into well qualified, highly skilled employees, capable of filling jobs not yet created.

Read the full report in the Spring edition of Naace Advancing Education journal

Author - Sal McKeown - Writer and freelance journalist
Date - 12 May 2020