In the most recent Baker Dearing Trust (BDT) survey of UTC students across the programme, the standard of facilities, both buildings and equipment, ranked as outstanding.
This is unsurprising: all UTCs are newly-built schools costing around £10m, with each receiving upwards of £600,000 on opening to purchase the specialist equipment necessary to deliver a contemporary technical curriculum. However, it takes more than just money to create the right environment for young learners to thrive at their UTC.
To ensure that the buildings and equipment meet with the requirements of industry, employers and universities, the driving forces behind the UTC movement, have been involved from the outset to create the right design and ‘feel’, and seeking to replicate the work environment. In addition, studies have shown that good school design has a positive impact on educational outcomes, as well as on staff productivity and well-being. This latter point is particularly important for UTCs. To mirror the workplace, the UTC day is longer than a normal school day; there are also additional demands on UTC staffs’ time, compared with that of mainstream teachers, such as student recruitment and employer engagement.
Of course, having state-of-the-art technical equipment is really just the starting point. There are 3 more important components to delivering the relevant curriculum which maximises the value of the UTC’s facilities:
- It is vital to have the right expertise to be able to operate and maintain the equipment to the highest standards, and to supervise student use in an effective and safe manner. All UTCs employ highly-trained and passionate technicians to achieve this aim.
- While a UTC’s hardware equipment has a relatively long ‘shelf life’, the associated software requires more frequent updates to keep pace with what is used in industry. Introducing and configuring the right packages, in consultation with employers, is an on-going activity for UTC staff.
- Linking equipment and software use to the demands of the technical curriculum, in a relevant and engaging way, requires skill, hard work and creativity on the part of all UTC staff. This is very often achieved through close collaboration between employers and teachers to design real-world projects undertaken by groups of students over a period of weeks. Each project has a direct connection with the world of work and leads to a tangible outcome such as a design, product or presentation – and often all three.
When these factors come together, the result is very powerful. Research by the National Foundation for Educational Research about UTCs found that “The evidence indicates that project-based learning and employer input, where delivered in a high-quality embedded way, deliver wide-ranging impacts for students, including work-readiness, enhanced emotional skills, high-level technical skills, and qualifications/awards.”
So, while the modern, business-like school buildings and industry-standard equipment, costing over £650m for the entire UTC programme, understandably grab the attention, it is the collaboration between UTC staff and employers to maximise these impressive facilities, which has a life-long, positive impact on students.