I’ve just been reading my very first blog – from way back in August 2015.  The last three years have flown by, and I’ve recently not found time to write many blogs, but what’s interesting is that the theme I was writing about then is just as relevant today.  Here’s an extract:


What strikes me most, and it's one of the main reasons I'm here setting up the UTC, is that none of the big pressures on schools look at whether students are successful and fulfilled in their future. 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. As educationalists, I think we must help our students to explore career options, understand what employers are looking for and build their workplace skills and confidence. UTCs are set up with a unique opportunity to build this in to the heart of what we do, through our industry links, project activities and workplace skills focus. The challenge for the UTC, and all schools, is keep this objective in mind in spite of the huge pressures on the school system.


Then we didn’t even have a building site; today we had our first cohort of students collecting their A-level results. So if the purpose of the UTC is to prepare young people for the world of work and to see them moving on to exciting destinations, it’s important to stop and reflect.  How well are we focusing on our reason for being here?

The photo shows Matthew and Arianna, clearly excited about their future careers, joined by their employers for results day.  Mathew arrived wearing his new work fleece and was joined by his employer, Katie Flanagan, Business Manager at Aycliffe Fabrications. As a small, local company, they were in need of an apprentice and worked with all of our students over several months to identify the right person.  The danger of spending time and money training someone who doesn’t work out is often a big worry for companies so this was an investment well worth making up front; the final step was for Matthew to spend a week on work experience with the company so that they could both be confident.  Katie described Matthew as ‘just the right fit’. I’ve actually taught Matthew for the last two years and I’ve been so impressed by how his design ability, confidence to work with adults and decision making have developed. I’m sure he’ll thrive there.

Arianna has developed a strong interest in industrial interior design and secured herself a place on an innovative scheme.  PlanBEE – it’s worth a look at http://www.joinplanbee.com/ - is an architectural engineering and management higher apprenticeship programme which has been set up by a group of design and construction companies in conjunction with Gateshead College. She’ll have the opportunity to spend three months in several businesses before being employed by one of them; in the meantime she’s paid as an apprentice and will be progressing to a part time degree.  A fantastic start to her career.

We are very proud of them and all the other students who graduated from the UTC this summer; don’t forget that they all took a huge risk in their education and decided to join us when we had one employee (me!) and a building site. It’s very rewarding to know that we have been an important part of their career journey. 

Our students experience a blend of academic courses, technical education and workplace experience which builds their skills and confidence.  In 2015 I asked a group of employers about the skills they thought were missing in young people when they were searching for employees; their answer formed our Workplace Skills – which we focus on constantly with our students. The most common responses from the business leaders were ‘attitude’ and ‘confidence’; it’s been wonderful to see our students develop these and to hear so many visitors and employers comment positively when they meet them. Those experiences and skills make them attractive to local, regional and global employers, which is what makes our UTC education so unique. 

Student destinations from our small group of 18-year old leavers include university courses in Mechanical Engineering, Product Design, Maths and Aerospace Engineering. Students have been successful in landing higher and advanced apprenticeships in a wide range of specialist areas, such as mechanical engineering, graphic design, fabrication, toolmaking, interior design, business administration and finance. 

The value of technical education is an increasingly hot topic of discussion at a national level with the apprentice levy and proposed introduction of T-levels (a topic for another blog). I was delighted when ITV approached us to ask if they could film our students opening their results. I was very keen to make sure that they took a different angle from the norm in their coverage of the UTC so focused them on destinations more than results and they interviewed Arianna and Matthew and their employers as well as me. It was certainly good to get that coverage and encouraging that they promoted something beyond the common theme of academic results.

I’ve been pleased with our results and delighted by our engineering grades in particular. In these Technical Levels; most students achieved Distinction or Distinction* grades; an outstanding effort by our students and engineering staff.

Overall, I think we are focusing well on the reasons we set up the UTC. We’ve had the inevitable teething issues of starting up, like any business; I have not claimed perfection and we are constantly striving to improve our students’ experience.  However, we are honouring and prioritising that commitment to a workplace education and technical experiences alongside the academic and have real momentum now, good student recruitment and our first group taking up their next challenges.