Teachers go back to the workshop

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Going from the classroom to the workshop to get a better understanding of how working practices have evolved in engineering was a task enthusiastically undertaken by two of Activate Learning Education Trust (ALET’s) UTC teachers last week.

Simon Ross, engineering teacher at UTC Swindon and Georgina Phillips, Head of Engineering at UTC Oxfordshire spent three days (13 – 15 July) working at employee partner Progressive Technologies, a Newbury-based high-grade engineering firm, which manufactures precision parts for Formula One teams, the aerospace industry, medical and defence organisations.

These ‘CoTeach placement days’ are part of a launch project launched last year by ALET (of which both UTCs are part of). The programme aims to give teachers up-to-date industry knowledge relevant to the subjects they teach, so they can feed that back into the classroom and link it to the curriculum.

On their time at Progressive, both teachers went on a detailed tour of the company, taking in some essential elements of the engineering process, including machining, quality management processes, health and safety requirements, cost performance and materials testing.

The pair spent time on the ‘shop floor’, UTC Oxfordshire’s Georgina Phillips said: “We spent time with lots of different departments including the Apprentice Academy, Additive Manufacture, 5 axis, EDM, Composites and NDT. We got to understand how the company operated, the clients and the high standards they demand.”

Included on the agenda was a tour of the Apprentice Academy. There the teachers picked up a better understanding of the apprentice training process and early-career progression of new engineers.

UTC Swindon’s Simon Ross said: “The visit was a positive experience for us seeing what is available to students post-16.

Explaining the Apprenticeship Academy further, he said: “A three-year apprenticeship starts off with one year workshop practice in the training academy, including rotations around the various departments of Progressive Technology. The apprentices I spoke to were very positive about the first year just completed.

“The remaining two years are spent developing across specific departments of interest/suitability/aptitude for the remainder of the apprenticeship with the solid prospect of a job at the end of training.

“Progressive Technology make components for high end customers like F1 teams and the aerospace industry, so work is of an incredibly high standard with strict quality control methods to ensure total accuracy of all produced components. Resources at Progressive Technology are state of the art, an obvious requirement when components are made to a tolerance of 0.008 of a millimetre (or smaller).

“The trainers at Progressive are constantly looking for prospective apprentices who have a passion for finding out how things work. This engineering knack is one of the most important characteristics for a developing engineer.

“I am already suggesting to possible candidates that they need to look at Progressive Technology online to get additional information. Next year I hope to take some students on a visit to see for themselves what could be on offer.”

Examples of apprentices’ work from their initial training.

Progressive Technologies Apprenticeship Academy Trainer Greg Ball praised the teachers’ enthusiasm throughout their placement, saying: “It was great three days. I think they got a good understanding of how the modern factory works. They had plenty to take back to the classrooms.

“It’s been really beneficial for us too to build up our relationship as we’re constantly taking on apprentices.”

Georgina Phillips summed up: “The level and complexity of the work Progressive Technologies do is amazing, and the staff gave so much time to explain their roles and projects so well to us. It is an outstanding business at the top of its game. Thank you to everyone who made us feel welcome during our visit.”


  • If you are part of a small to medium STEM-based business based in Berkshire and are interested in helping shape young people – who may potentially become one of your own employees in the future – contact Jane Fitzpatrick at jane.fitzpatrick@alet.org.uk and find out more about The Industry Specialist Teaching and Knowledge Exchange Programme.




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