Plans to establish “Career Colleges” receive the green light

2 Jan

On 15 October 2013, Lord Kenneth Baker, Margaret Thatcher’s secretary of state for education who spearheaded epic reforms in the late 1980s and early 1990s, unveiled plans to establish pioneering “career colleges” for 14-to-19-year-olds that had the approval of Matthew Hancock, the skills minister. The colleges will offer vocational training in a range of subjects including digital technology, construction, catering and healthcare. These will build on his network of successful university technical colleges which specialise in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. 

Lord Baker wrote in the Independent: “By starting at 14, youngsters have a head start in preparing for the world of work as they do in Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands, where youth unemployment is much lower.”

He added: “We have one million young people unemployed and we are issuing visas to people from overseas who have the skills that are needed – it is about time that we filled the skills gap with our own young people.”

The first such career college is scheduled to open in Oldham, Greater Manchester, later this year and will focus on giving its students the skills to work in the digital economy.

One of its partners will be the University of Salford, which specialises in degrees connected to the media, very useful given that the BBC has moved into its neighbourhood.

There are 17 University Technology Colleges (UTCs)[1] already operating in Britain, with 27 more in the pipeline and proposals for a further 15 being assessed by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust (set up by Lord Baker and the late Lord Dearing, former senior government adviser on education).

The JCB Academy in Staffordshire, the first to be established, achieved great success in its GCSEs last year with all of its students gaining five or more A* to C grade passes, including in engineering.

The new career colleges will be built on the sites of existing further education colleges but operate as separate institutions. Lord Baker is anxious to persuade more principals of further education colleges to embrace the idea.

In recent years Lord Baker has been campaigning to establish the UTCs as a feature in every town and city, and has chaired the Edge Foundation, which aims to improve vocational education options for pupils.

Baker’s proposals come at a time when the careers service is under fire for failing to deliver adequate advice to pupils after taking over the responsibility from schools. An Ofsted report in September 2013 said thousands of teenagers were being denied the careers advice they desperately needed to find a job.

It added that three out of four schools visited by inspectors were not delivering adequate advice.  Inspectors said there was too much focus on pursuing an academic future rather than giving advice about vocational options.

Graham Stuart, the Conservative MP and chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Education, remarked: “The transfer of responsibility for careers advice to schools last year was regrettable.”

At the JCB Academy last year, on the other hand, not a single student left who was not in employment, education or training (i.e. a NEET). The latest government figures show there are more than 200,000 16-to 18-year olds who fall into this category.

[1] UTCs are sponsored by universities, but also work closely with industry and further-education (FE) colleges. The JCB Academy attracted the interest of Cambridge University for its excellence in engineering. The difference between UTCs and today’s “career colleges” is that the former are all housed in new buildings and set up from scratch, whereas the latter are free-standing institutions but linked to existing FE colleges.

Many large companies – such as the engineering firm  Arup, British Airways, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and Sony – are among the sponsors of today’s UTCs.

Those now open include the  Silverstone UTC – which will train the back-up staff needed for Formula One racing – and the Elstree University Technical College, which has links to the nearby television studios and will train the technical-support staff necessary for the world of television, theatre and musical events.

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