“I’ve done many things as an MP, but if you had to point to one thing, it’s the UTC I’m most proud of,” says Robert Halfon MP, one of the first parliamentary advocates of UTCs.
We have little reason to doubt him either—he campaigned for two and a half years for a UTC in his Harlow constituency, finally succeeding with the opening of the Sir Charles Kao UTC in September 2014. We spoke with him to learn more.
Could you tell us why you first got behind the UTC programme?
“I knew that a UTC would transform the education in my town. We need to specialise in technical education for young people, to give them the skills that they need for the new industries coming in the 21st century. My dream would be to have one in every town and city across the country.”
Some critics say that moving children from mainstream school to UTCs disrupts their academic education. What would you say to these critics?
“Some people are more academically minded and that’s important, but I don’t agree with that. In the modern world you need people with high technical skills. And at UTCs students are still doing academic stuff—they’re still doing all their GCSEs including English and Maths. But they also have access to a technical education. I think the mix is a good thing and the age range is just right.”
Another criticism of UTCs is that young children shouldn’t be learning technical subjects like engineering. What would you say to that?
“Nobody is forcing anybody to go there—it’s up to parents and students to decide. What the UTC movement is saying is: if you want a technical education of highest calibre, with some of the finest teachers in the land—and the teachers are remarkable individuals—then go for it.”
How has having a UTC in Harlow has benefitted the local community?
“It’s completely free for young people, there’s no selection process, and it gives them a special technical education they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Whenever I meet parents they say the best decision they ever made was to send their child to Sir Charles Kao.
“Just to give an example of what kind of place it is, I once asked a student—about 14 years old—what he was doing on Saturday night. I thought he would reply, ‘Watching X-Factor,’ but he actually said: ‘I’m going to a lecture about space in London—I can’t wait.’ Those were his exact words! And I just thought to myself: this is the kind of place a UTC is, and the way it’s turning around lives of young people.”
In your experience, what opportunities do UTCs open up for young people?
“They will virtually be guaranteed highly skilled technical, scientific and engineering jobs in the future. This is the world we’re in now. The way industry is going—the rise of the Internet, engineering and computer technologies—means people who get the highly paid jobs will be those with strong technical skills. Going to UTC is a bridge to lifetime employment for these young people.”
What advice could you offer MPs considering a UTC in their constituency?
“Advocate it morning noon and night. It took me two and a half years, working with local businesses, colleges and universities. You have to be absolutely relentless… But UTCs are really going to take off. There is going to be such demand for them, people have to be really savvy if they want one. However, it’s the best thing that will happen in your constituency for a long time.”
Finally, why should people #ThinkUTC?
“#ThinkUTC for a high-quality technical education and a skilled job for the future—it will transform your life.”
You can follow Robert on Twitter: @halfon4harlowMP