Lee Kilgour took up the post of Executive Principal of The Greater Manchester University Technical College in September 2015, having previously been the Principal of the UTC in Aston. In this interview with students he talks about his plans for the UTC, why he applied for the post and shares some more personal insights.
Why did you decide to go into teaching?
I didn’t do too well at school and I was always interested in doing things with my hands so once I finished school, I trained for three years as a helicopter maintenance apprentice engineer for the Royal Air Force (RAF). As I progressed through the RAF I started delivering training sessions which eventually inspired me to become a teacher. I decided to study a Batchelor of Education Degree at The University of Huddersfield and I have taught ever since.
What are your greatest achievements?
My greatest personal achievement is my three sons; they are all born and bred in Saddleworth and I am incredibly proud of all three of them.
On a professional level, I have three main achievements. Firstly, the second school I worked at was in Stockport and we set up an engineering provision which received the award for ‘Best Value Added School for GCSE Engineering’ in the region. This made me think more about the importance of technical learning pathways.
My second greatest achievement was setting up an engineering provision at a school in Rochdale and securing £6.5million of funding to build a new sixth form centre.
And finally, I would say my greatest achievement so far would be setting up Aston University Engineering Academy (AUEA) where I was still Principal until August. We went from a car park five years ago to a fantastic facility which was rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted last year in all areas and came first in Birmingham for ‘Vocational Value Added Scores’ for our Post-16 provision and 12th nationally out of 4,000 colleges – not bad for its second year of operation!
What are the benefits of learning at a UTC?
UTCs offer a practical, technical education which means you can learn about the industry you want to work in, develop specific skills and have a clear progression route into a technical role. They provide a fantastic opportunity for young people and Oldham is lucky that it has one right on its doorstep.
Is it different in schools and colleges now to when you were at school?
Yes it’s very different but the children are the same. The have the same needs – they need nurturing, to be excited and to have a clear sense of where they’re heading – that will never change.
What has changed is that there are so many more opportunities for young people compared to when I was at school; UTCs for example. However, the main difference is access to technology and the internet. The internet gives students access to a wealth of resources right at their fingertips, something we never had at school.
What will you enjoy most about being Principal at The GM?
I’m really passionate about the area. Oldham is my patch – I grew up here and worked here for 15 years of my teaching career so I’m really looking forward to making a difference and providing opportunities for young people in the area and hopefully, helping to grow the local economy by creating employees who are ready for the world of work as soon as they leave the UTC.
I’m also looking forward to working with The GM’s main employer sponsor, Equity Solutions, and developing some exciting and interesting projects for our students to work on from September.
What do you hope to achieve whilst you are Principal?
I want what all schools want for their students – happy, successful, committed young people – that’s what school is all about. I want students to want to be at the UTC, to know they have made the right choice by studying here and for them to be proud to be ‘a GM student.’
I also want The GM to receive a ‘Good’ Ofsted report when we are eventually inspected and then build on our fantastic reputation.
What are the first changes you are going to make as Principal?
I have already made some changes which you will have noticed, such as bringing the term dates in line with Oldham Council and also adjusting the timings of the school day.
The UTC operates longer hours than most schools as this allows students to be familiar with the working world. The idea being they do not receive homework – work is completed in lesson times. However, we recognise that although it is important to have these timings, students get tired easily and need a good balance between school and their personal lives.
We are also re-energising the technical curriculum with lots of new technical and industry-related projects planned.
What attracted you to apply for the role as Principal at The GM?
The opportunity to make a difference in the local area and also the close link The GM has with its main sponsor, Equity Solutions. The GM works very closely with Equity Solutions and has a whole host of exciting projects and opportunities for our students.
How do you plan to communicate/build relationships with students throughout the UTC?
I will be developing a Student Leadership Team. Students will need to apply for a position and be interviewed. The team will meet regularly; discuss what’s going well, what might not be going so well, charity initiatives and how we can move things forward.
It will be a fantastic opportunity for our students to have a real say in how we run the UTC.
If you could sit on a bench and chat for one hour with anyone from the past or present, who would it be?
I don’t think I could just pick one. The first would be Collin Bell who played for Manchester City Football Club in the 1960s and 70s. One of my greatest passions is Manchester City and Bell is probably one of the greatest footballers of his era.
The second one is Nelson Mandela who was an amazing man and his memory will always live on.
What do you think is the greatest ever example of engineering in history?
There are so many to choose from. One would definitely be the Millau Bridge in the South of France which I have driven across many times. It sits above a large valley with a village underneath and has glass sides which makes it look as if it’s suspended in air.
The second would be the iPhone; it is the most incredible computer which you can just put in your pocket – amazing!
However, although the Millau Bridge and iPhone are both fantastic examples of engineering, the very best in my opinion has to be the Apollo rockets and what they did for society. They opened up the next frontier and changed how we look at everything in the world – they put men on the moon, and all from a piece of engineering.
What do you like to do outside of the UTC?
I like to spend time with my family. Two of my sons play national league basketball and one plays football, so I like to watch their games.
I also love to cycle and seven years ago I cycled to Scotland (300 miles) in three days and raised £1,500 for charity.
I’m also a huge Manchester City fan.
What did you want to do when you were 15?
I didn’t do too well at school because I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted to be. My parents kept saying “get an apprenticeship” so that’s what I did.
Looking back, I think I always wanted to be a teacher but never really knew it, but then when it happened, I instantly knew – this is right, this is what I was destined for.
How do you feel about running a UTC that is predominately full of males?
The UK is bottom in the OECD (Organisation for Economic, Co-operation and Development) league tables for women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) roles, and UTCs tend to mirror this statistic which is a real shame.
We will continue to work at convincing girls that careers in engineering and technical subjects are right for them - women make fantastic engineers and all evidence suggests that women have very rewarding, fulfilling and well paid jobs when working in these industries.
What doors can you open for us as students?
The GM works very closely with Equity Solutions and our other employer partners to provide as many opportunities as possible for students to progress into an engineering career once they graduate. We have established an Employer Pledge to guarantee that a set number of students will be interviewed for technical positions within Equity Solutions each year.
We are also developing closer relationships with global organisation Serco, which manages the Metrolink in Greater Manchester, and a utilities company which provides infrastructure services for Greater Manchester.
We’ll be making sure our students have plenty of fantastic opportunities to work with these companies and gain valuable experience and skills for when they graduate from the UTC.