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Building blocks

Wed 9 December 2015, 10:37 am

The Medway University Technical College has opened its doors, creating a different educational path for Medway’s ambitous teenagers. James Wood visits the college

Product design and engineering courses take place at the UTC

The drone of heavy-duty machinery and abrasive clash of metal upon metal reverberate around Chatham Waters, one of Medway’s key development locations. An area with many regeneration projects under way is an appropriate place then for the region’s new £11.4 million University Technical College (UTC), which offers GCSE and sixth form students aged between 14 and 19 an alternative path to educational success, providing training in construction as well as engineering.

Opened in September 2015, the UTC has taken in 188 year 10 and 12 pupils, just shy of its target of 190. As the current crop of students move into their second year in 2016, two new year groups will join; the college is confident it will not take long to fill its capacity of 600 students.

Government-funded UTCs were set up in 2010 to offer an alternative to the traditional qualifications provided by secondary schools and sixth form colleges, while addressing the government’s perceived skills shortages in labour-intensive industries. By the beginning of the 2015 academic year 39 UTCs had opened, and the aim is to open another 55 by 2017.

The Medway UTC requires its 14-year-old students to take traditional compulsory GCSE subjects too: English, maths and science classes usually take place in the morning, followed by the engineering and construction sessions, which form the core of the students’ studies. For sixth formers, the focus is on industry-based qualifications, with a wide range of suitable A-levels and BTec courses on offer, including ICT and business skills, as well as product design and engineering.

Students have long days at the college; the idea being that working between 8.30 and 5.30 will stand them in good stead for employment. Homework is not given, freeing the teenagers to engage in extracurricular activities in the evenings.

It is clearly important for the college to ensure that students participate in a wide variety of activities: an enrichment programme is allotted for college hours, where students take a break from the workbench and turn their hand to a wide range of pursuits – from music to sport to computer engineering.

Sixth formers are also encouraged to take work experience placements at construction and engineering companies, several of which partner the Medway UTC, such as BAE Systems – which is based in the area – BAM Construct UK, Bouygues UK and Delphi. It is not a compulsory requirement to do so but if students wish to pursue such opportunities, they can source their own placements.

This supports one of the common assertions students give as to why they are enjoying their courses.

Robert Gladden, who aspires to become the college’s head boy, says: “I think the hours are similar to what we will have later on, when we might be working in a factory or office. One of the great things is that we’re respected and treated like adults. There is pressure on us to do well, but that’s something that makes me want to do the best that I can.”

Students like Gladden – who has a clear idea of what he wants to do in the future – consider the UTC a worthwhile route into their chosen field. Gladden has ambitions to work in the aviation industry: “I’ve always been interested in doing that and the UTC gives me the option to learn the skills I need to help me achieve it,” he explains. After my studies here, I want to go down the apprenticeship route and my eventual aim is to work for Rolls-Royce.”

Gladden says the UTC will help him work towards that goal: "My enrichment programme involves stripping down an engine. If I can learn these sorts of skills during my studies at the UTC, I think this will set me up really well for the future."

A longer version of this article appears in the latest edition of Medway1 magazine.

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