UTC Leeds sees record number of applicants as education focus shifts from exams to employability
A college in Leeds which is an alternative to traditional secondary school education has seen a record number of entry applications for its September term.
University Technical College Leeds opened in 2016 and has been under capacity each year, but a shift in focus from Ofsted demands and what employers actually want has generated more interest this year from potential students - who can join the college at the age of 14 until they are 19.
The college places an emphasis upon STEM subject disciplines of science, technology, English and maths with the vision of preparing students to contribute to society and the engineering industry. Like other UTCs across the country, Leeds focuses on these specialisms and how they are linked to the skills gaps in the region and job opportunities.
The last term saw 331 students at UTC but applications for September 2021 are up to around 460. The college can accommodate 600 students on its books and an open day will take place when the new term starts following the summer beak.
Following Brexit, and the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic that will be seen for the coming years, increasing the UK's capabilities and future in engineering and manufacturing has never been more relevant.
And it is this, says Mark Goldstone, one of the founder members of UTC and a current governor, that is attracting students along with the realisation that, not every student thrives or can reach their full potential in a traditional and mainstream school setting.
He said: "There is an observation within schools, that you go to school, go to university, go back to school. They think that is the natural pathway. You just need access to the right pathway, that is the really important thing here. We are not obsessed with numbers of people going to university but we are with the numbers of NEET (not in education, employment or training)."
UTC Leeds has seven times higher than the national average numbers of students taking up apprenticeships and has links to 70 firms across Leeds and West Yorkshire - whom it has teamed up with to work with students from talks via video-link, to setting challenges, offering work placements and even jobs.
Mr Goldstone is also the head of business representation and policy at the West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce. It was in this role and with the businesses also involved with the Chamber that it became apparent that what skills young people left school with and the things they had been taught, were not always what employers wanted.
He explained: "We spend the first year preparing them for the real world, getting them to work in a team and the ability to communicate. That is the employer influence. If this was a mainstream school, the focus would be GCSE, A-Level and Progress 8.
"What Ofsted is now looking for aligns with us. They have realised that our job is not just to get them through exams but ready for the next steps. That has been our prime focus, Ofsted are recognising that and finally the education sector is noticing that.
"We need employers investing. I know that has been really tough but the world will go on. We are a very innovative nation, there are some fantastic opportunities in the UK but none of it will happen without kids having the right skills in place."
Another stereotype that needs to be addressed, he added, was the idea that apprenticeships are just for boys, builders and car mechanics and that manufacturing is still like it was in the Victorian era.
Eighty-five per cent of students at UTC Leeds are boys (they are calling for more girls to get involved as careers for them would be in "high demand") and while most people would say when asked, that the Midlands is the place to be for manufacturing, it is actually Leeds and West Yorkshire that has the highest concentration of manufacturing jobs in the country - just not the big names of Rolls Royce or Toyota.
Leeds does have, Mr Goldstone added, creativity and entrepreneurship which has been growing with independent and start up businesses since the last recession. It is also no coincidence that UTC Leeds was created (albeit in a former Victorian mill) but in the South Bank area of Leeds amongst GORSE, Leeds City College and the city's industrial heartland of manufacturing.
Mr Goldstone added: "In modern manufacturing you could eat your dinner off the floor. Young people don't know what a career in manufacturing is - they think builder or car mechanic. Surgical Innovations in Morley makes key hole surgery equipment, Flender manufactures for the off-shore wind industry. It has always been there in Leeds but where was the outlet for it?
"Aside from UTC, at the Chamber we do a lot of work helping business start up. There is some phenomenal talent."