Osborne signals technical college surge

25th March 2011 at 00:00
Chancellor finds funds for national roll-out of new vocational institutions

Ministers are preparing to roll university technical colleges (UTCs) out across the country following the decision by George Osborne to provide funding to "at least" double their number by 2014.

In his Budget announcement on Wednesday, the chancellor said he will make pound;150 million of capital funding available to support improved technical and vocational education, including expanding the planned number of UTCs to "at least" 24 by 2014.

The additional funding for the 14-19 colleges formed part of the Government's "strategy for growth", which the chancellor described as a "Budget for making things, not for making things up".

Conservative peer and former education secretary Lord Baker, who, along with the late Sir Ron Dearing, started the UTC programme, said the number of technical colleges will be "far greater" than anticipated.

"We hope to do more than 24 as we already have match-funding from the industry," Lord Baker said. "There is growing demand for these colleges, so I really see more being established."

"I hope to see a UTC in every town and city in the country," he added. "We are being inundated with requests for the colleges, with FE colleges coming to us, universities and even groups of teachers who are saying, `This is the way forward'."

The Department for Education is expected to keep a close eye on the success of the programme but education secretary is known the education secretary is known to be a supporter of the model.

The colleges will teach a range of practical and vocational skills in anything from engineering and product design to health sciences and construction.

The first UTC, the JCB Academy in Staffordshire, opened last year and according to Lord Baker is already oversubscribed. The Black Country UTC, sponsored by Walsall College and the University of Wolverhampton, is expected to open its gates later this year.

Stephen Capper, head of Sawyers Hall College in Essex, a secondary that is in the process of opening a UTC in the area, believes the extension of the programme is the first step in a complete overhaul of the education system. He said that it would culminate with tens of thousands of children choosing vocational education at the age of 14.

"I think it is the beginning of a restoration for vocational and technical education that will blend academic and practical education in a way that has never been done before," Mr Capper said.

"There has been a failure to address this problem ever since the 1850s, which has led to a decline in craftsmanship and manufacturing in this country, to the benefit of other countries such as Germany who excel in it as well as, in time, China."

But the decision to expand the number of colleges has been criticised by teachers' leaders who have described the proposal as "extremely divisive".

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: "It will lead to a two-tier system with technical schools being seen as the poor cousin.

"It is unacceptable to force pupils into specific learning routes at such an early age which could restrict their future career or educational choices."

The move was greeted with concern by the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), which fears the expansion could lead to further education colleges receiving less cash. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "We have real concerns about the increase in the number of UTCs.

"We fear they will divert money away from further education colleges, reintroduce selection at 14 and create a two-tier system."

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