Technical Education is well on its way.

2 February 2017 

Technical Education is well on its way.

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Gary Holmes

Our vision

1 August 2016 

This month's blog is written by Prof Gary Holmes, Chair of UTC South Durham's Trustees, who has led the project from its design stage four years ago.

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Boy and goggles

Specialist equipment

5 July 2016 

As we get to within a couple of months before we open, we're into the detail of specifying and ordering the remainder of our specialist equipment.

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Tom Dower leaning

Pastoral support and wider student care

9 June 2016 

With three months to go until we welcome our students through the door, my thoughts have turned significantly to both the practicalities of opening a school and how it will feel for our students in the first few months.

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Tom Dower and Jenny Trapp

Curriculum and staffing

9 May 2016 

Jenny Trapp, recently appointed as our Deputy Principal, 'takes over' the Principal's blog for this edition and writes about our curriculum and staffing.

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Lifting platform

Building design

29 February 2016 

I walked around the site a couple of weeks ago and couldn't wipe the smile off my face. It's one thing looking at plans and quite another to see it happening in real life.

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Staff recruitment

1 February 2016 

As we embark on a process of recruiting staff for the first year, I wanted to stop and reflect on what's important in our recruitment process, the staff we aim to appoint and how we differ from most schools and colleges.

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Arthur Dower

What is Engineering?

1 December 2015 

When I talk to a teenager and they say they want to be an engineer, I wonder what they mean. In the vast majority of cases they do too.

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Boy with safety goggles


28 October 2015 

In my many conversations with families over the last few months, one theme which stands out is them trying to understand the routes open to their children to gain meaningful qualifications and set themselves up for a career.

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Girl with arm

Young women in engineering

12 October 2015 

A discussion I’m having frequently at the moment is about the key challenge for engineering and manufacturing businesses in recruiting women and the need to inspire girls to start off in STEM careers.

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Results day

10 August 2015 

It's results day - how useful are GCSEs in measuring our success as schools? Surely the primary objective for education is preparing young people for the rest of their lives, including ensuring that they are ready to thrive in work.

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School blog

Record number of applications to UTCs, while the education system needs to catch up

With elections and Brexit looming, concerns over job prospects has led to a record number of applications this term to England’s 48 UTCs.  Yr 10 applications are running at more than double the rate of last year and UTC South Durham is no exception; we are oversubscribed for September.  However, it’s not too late to apply as Trustees are currently considering offering additional places.

Research commissioned by UTCs reveals that 8 out of 10 (80%) parents believe that the current education system needs to change with a further two thirds fearing their child will not find a job when they leave education. Nearly two thirds (64%) said they want a greater variety of choice in the type of school for their child and 7 in 10 parents (69%) said they would like the option to select a technical education if it reflects their child’s talents.

Microsoft, Jaguar Land Rover, Hitachi Rail Europe, Gestamp Tallent, Rolls Royce and Fujitsu are amongst the 500 businesses backing UTCs. With core GCSE subjects (Maths, English and Science) offered alongside specialist technical qualifications, it appears that this approach is giving students a clear competitive advantage with students going on to fantastic  careers.

Lord Baker, Chairman of Baker Dearing Educational Trust, the charity behind UTCs says:

‘‘These findings highlight the importance parents place on their children’s education and whether it gives them the qualifications and experience they need to secure a job. UTCs are playing an important role to ensure children get the education they need for the 21st century workplace. This is valued a great deal by parents and I’m delighted that so many are considering a UTC education for their children.’’

It’s important that students who join us have an interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects; if you do then we can give you a fantastic insight into the careers open to you and set you up for your future. 

Families interested can find further details on our website, apply on line or contact Leyanne Pennington-Foster for further information.

The rest of this blog is not mine!  It’s taken directly from a recent article in the Times and TES by Charles Parker, CEO of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust.  It counters some misleading research published by the Institute for Public Policy Research.  The concerns raised about UTCs fall into two areas; poor recruitment by some UTCs leading to closures and poor academic results.  On recruitment, we are in good shape as indicated by the comments above.  Results across most UTCs are low if the standard school measures are used; however we don’t have a curriculum designed to maximise our performance measures, we have a curriculum which best prepares our students for their future.  Fundamentally it’s the measures which should change, not the experience of the students.  It’s a point which experts from the Department for Education agree with and a battle with the education system which we will continue to fight.



Research into 14-19 education is badly needed to understand better how all institutions recruiting at this age group are developing. The problem with the report published today by the Institute for Public Policy Research about UTCs and transition at 14 is that it looks at the UTC programme through the lens of the existing school system and its in-built resistance to innovation.

UTCs have been created to address the problem identified so often by employers – that the economy has a serious skills shortage and English schools are not producing anything like enough 18-year-olds able and willing to fill the gap. Putting on extra post-16 educational offerings will not address the skills gap, as you need more than two years to get students, with precious little technical education or skills pre-16, ready for level 3 courses and beyond. But children should not be asked to follow a specialised technical curriculum from the age of 11 and work a long school day. We decided that we should start around 13 to 14 (in common with much of Europe) when some pupils worked out where their interests might lie, and realised that the one-size-fits-all offer of mainstream secondary schools was not for them. So we created a new type of school, established where the skills are most needed, controlled by the employers and university, with a focussed technical curriculum admitting pupils at the non-standard age of 14 and going on for four academic years. UTCs are right for the child, right for the economy, but a bad fit with the education system.

'Breaking through'

The single big point, which every observer including IPPR rightly seizes on, is that it is difficult to attract into UTCs a balanced intake of students at the end of KS3 at the age of 14. There is no doubt that transfer at 14 has proved harder to solve than we anticipated when we started in 2010.

But rather than throwing in the towel, as IPPR would like us to do, Baker Dearing Educational Trust has worked tirelessly to identify the refinements needed in the UTC model and overcome the shortcomings of our educational system which are holding UTCs back. We have recently started to break through.

The steps include a legal requirement that all local authorities should write to the parents of Year 9 children to tell them about their local UTC. Letters went out for the first time in February and March all over England. The number of applications for September is running at more than double the rate of this time last year. UTC Silverstone has seen an increase in applications from 98 to 197 from just March to May this year and at Aston University Engineering Academy there are 270 on their waiting list for Year 10 places.

In addition, the government has legislated to entitle UTCs to go into local schools from September to explain to the students the type of education that UTCs offer. We believe that this will lead to a further significant increase in the rate of applications at KS4.

'Let's celebrate UTC outcomes'

IPPR states that UTCs attract a comprehensive sample of students. This is incorrect. Although the intake in UTCs broadly mirrors that of the mainstream demographic (students in LA-maintained schools, academies and free schools) UTC students are less likely to come from the top 20 per cent of students nationally (measured by prior attainment at KS2). Our students are educated elsewhere during KS3 and have often made little progress when they join a UTC. Even so, we are proud of the education UTC students receive, and the progress they make while they are with us during KS4 and KS5.

IPPR takes no account of the outstanding destination data of UTCs. Of the 1,300 UTC leavers aged 18 in July 2016 only five were not in education, employment or training, whereas the national average unemployment rate at 18 is 11.8 per cent. 44 per cent went to universities from UTCs in 2016 – higher than the national average of mainstream schools, 29 per cent became apprentices – three times the level of mainstream schools and 15 per cent started a job.

In September five more UTCs will open recruiting in both KS4 and KS5, bringing the total number of open UTCs to 49. UTCs are not going anywhere, students and parents like them, employers want them and our economy needs them. We need lots of research into 14-19 schools, but then we need clever people to help us overcome the teething troubles we have had in the early years and embed UTCs in the English educational landscape. Let’s celebrate the fantastic outcomes for UTC students and be glad that at long last one small part of the school system is actually focussed on the needs of the economy.

Charles Parker, CEO of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust.