Mark Kennedy: A new era dawns for education as college launches

Mark Kennedy who is heading the new University Technical College in Leeds.
Mark Kennedy who is heading the new University Technical College in Leeds.
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WHETHER it’s working more closely with industry or dramatically improving careers advice, there is considerable opportunity for progress in our region’s schools in 2016, When the state-of-the-art UTC Leeds opens in September it will mark the start of a new era for manufacturing and engineering in the region.

Never has there been so much emphasis on developing the skills and knowledge required to shape the inventors, engineers, scientists and technicians of tomorrow.

Over the coming years, demand for skilled workers is expected to double. While University Technical Colleges (UTCs) address the vital need for the UK to train more technicians and engineers, the lack of future skilled workers should be a concern shared by all schools.

So what can our schools do better in 2016? How can schools, colleges and academies ensure pupils have the required technical skills coupled with a strong ambition to succeed?

All schools need to focus on how education can shape our entire lives. There is too much focus on imposed targets and not enough on the individual needs of students.

Schools are measured and parents make judgements based on a very narrow set of criteria which in turn forces schools to focus on a narrow set of priorities.

There are now dozens of UTCs across the UK, albeit ours is the first in the Leeds City Region. These new schools have an enviable reputation for guiding young people and helping them identify careers.

As a result, the proportion of students leaving UTCs and failing to go onto further education, employment or training (NEET) is significantly better than that achieved by other schools.

We really must be clear about the role education plays in delivering better life choices for all young people.

One of the biggest challenges faced by Yorkshire schools, and indeed schools across the UK, is how we better integrate education and industry.

At UTC Leeds, we’re working closely with more than 60 employers.

Young people need to have confidence that what they are doing every day at school will have an impact on their career. They need to know jobs exist and what those jobs look like.

Employers are very keen, in my experience, to engage positively with schools but schools seem unable to develop this relationship.

Why? Let’s get our heads together and sort this.

At UTC Leeds, we’re keen to share the lessons we’ve learned through working in partnership with industry with other schools. There’s so much work to be done on this front.

A major report from UK manufacturers revealed that young people are “poorly” or “very poorly” prepared for the working environment?

This needs to change and quality careers advice and guidance is critical. One has to ask whether careers advice is a high enough priority in schools.

We must look at how schools inform young people about the choices that they have. Parents also need to be better informed about education and training and how they will impact on their sons and daughters.

There is too much confusion around qualifications and careers, which isn’t helped by the constant changes that we see in qualifications and grades.

We’ve taken a simplified approach to career advice at the UTC Leeds for this very reason.

Schools face a constant battle with league tables and performance measures and there’s often a perception by some teachers, students and parents that league table position is the most important outcome of student achievement. It really isn’t. We have to transfer the balance of responsibility back to students and parents.

Students need to better understand the value of the qualifications that they are studying – to fully recognise their potential.

I want students to have greater responsibility for their own performance and reporting back to their teachers and parents. When we open, we will require our students to develop their own targets and report to parents, employers and teachers.

Finally, we cannot get away from the fact that the people who have the biggest part to play in the development of young people are the people who see them every day. Whether it is leaders, teachers, administrative staff or support staff, it’s clear that every adult is a role model.

Recruitment and retention of the best quality staff is therefore key to the success of UTC Leeds and every school in the region. Our education system must strive to combine outstanding teaching and supported learning alongside industry expertise.

Only by twinning this expertise and providing academic and vocational training will we be able to develop and inspire future generations capable of filling the widening skills gap.