High-tech strategy for future success

Sir Cyril Taylor

There is increasing support across the political spectrum for choice and diversity in secondary school provision. Children have different interests and aptitudes and will develop different career goals. One way of encouraging diversity of provision is to create schools which, while satisfying the requirements of the national curriculum, emphasise certain subjects such as maths, science and technology, in the case of the new technology colleges, and modern languages in the case of language colleges. Such curricular emphasis is widely available at secondary level in France and Germany.

The pilot group of 15 city technology colleges has shown how popular such schools are with parents, typically having three times as many applications as places.

Chris Tipple in his recent article (TES, July 7) missed the macro-economic arguments in favour of diversity. We need to improve the skills of our school- leavers in maths, science and technology. Professor Charles Handy, the management guru and futurologist, whose recent book The Man in the Empty Raincoat is an essential read, estimates that by the end of this decade more than two-thirds of all jobs will be knowledge-based, a complete reversal from only a few years ago when two-thirds of jobs were unskilled.

If we are to protect our standard of living and compete in world markets, Britain as a medium-sized country with relatively high labour costs will have to succeed in high value-added specialist markets requiring considerable skill, not only in service industries such as finance and tourism - in which we excel - but also in manufacturing.

While there are many excellent comprehensive schools which teach maths, science, technology and foreign languages well, we have to keep raising our standards if we are to maintain and improve our competitiveness. Creating schools which specialise in these key subjects is one way of doing this.

Mr Tipple is perhaps also unaware of the considerable support which the technology college initiative has received since its launch just two years ago. There are now 85 technology colleges, 15 CTCs and two language colleges, including inner city areas which so urgently need extra support. Most of the colleges accept students with a wide range of ability. Since the initiative was opened up to all schools by Gillian Shephard last November (a move which the CTC Trust strongly supports), a total of 113 schools across the country have applied for technology and language college status with the support of millions of pounds' worth of sponsorship from some 200 private sector companies and foundations. The CTC network of affiliated schools has grown to 213 schools since it was launched three years ago, with 20 applications from new schools coming in each month.

In the North-east, for example, councils such as Newcastle have taken a role in helping schools with their bids, and the TEC has assisted in securing sponsorship from such distinguished companies as Rolls-Royce and Procter Gamble. Not surprisingly, there are now three technology colleges on Tyneside as well as the Emmanuel CTC, and even one in Northumberland.

There are sufficient government funds for the establishment of 60 technology and language colleges this year and a similar number in 1996 and 1997. By 1997, the CTC Trust is confident that more than 200 technology and language colleges will have been established with a goal being to have at least one technology college in every LEA. This will be around one in 20 of all secondary schools.

We believe that the provision of Pounds 100,000 of capital support for technology and language colleges, providing a similar sum is contributed by the private sector, together with the annual top-up recurrent grant of Pounds 100 per pupil, is a wise investment in our country's future. The top-up funding, which is equivalent to about 5 per cent, is modest when compared with the differential funding for post secondary courses in similar subjects.

In conclusion, the CTC Trust wishes to emphasise its willingness to work closely with LEAs to develop strategies for local fund-raising and for helping schools to prepare successful technology and language college bids. We have a substantial number of affiliated county schools as well as strong links with grant-maintained and voluntary aided schools.

Sir Cyril Taylor is the chairman of the City Technology Colleges Trust.

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