A Technical Re-Drawing of England’s Education Policy


Jim McColl, the highly-successful Monaco-based Scottish businessman, is reported to be mired in bureaucracy over his bid to start a vocational, manufacturing-oriented college for under-performing youngsters on the Southside of Glasgow. Arresting piece, therefore, in yesterday’s Times, 29 May 2012, by Kenneth Baker, former Education Secretary, on the impending approval by the UK Government of 15 new university technical colleges (UTCs) in England.

This will bring the number of UTCs to 34 and Lord Baker anticipates “at least 100 UTCs as soon as possible – and that means more than 60,000 students”. Each establishment, which takes youngsters in at 14 and on up to 19, is focused on training technicians and engineers with a curriculum focused on English, maths, science, a business or technically-oriented foreign language, and the history and geography of industry, invention and innovation.

Similar such technical institutions, which briefly existed in England just after the Second World War, are at the core of Germany’s world-leading engineering and scientific excellence.

Each English UTC is supported by both a local university and nearly 300 major manufacturing or technical organisations, including the BBC, the RAF and Virgin Atlantic: Plymouth UTC is supported by Babcock International and specialises in marine engineering and advanced manufacturing; Warwick UTC is supported by Jaguar Land Rover and specialises in engineering with digital technology, while Norfolk UTC, in Norwich, specialises in energy skills and is supported by East Anglia Offshore Wind.

A key part of the education on offer at UTCs, says Lord Baker, is that the students, engaged as they are for two days a week in amassing hands-on practical skills, appreciate more readily than in a conventional school setting how the value of understanding classroom-taught maths, English and science can help them become more accomplished technicians and engineers. Truancy and bad behaviour decline, and, he says, the “disengaged are engaged: this helps to heal our broken society”.

Lord Baker concludes with a plea for both the Government and the financial sector to invest in a sector which the British economy, under severe economic pressure from global competitors, needs more than ever. Meanwhile, in Scotland, our school students, politicians and educational establishment mark time.