We caught up with former Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, to find out what she thought about the benefits of starting a technical education at 14. Estelle also gives advice to 14 year olds who are considering their options to transfer schools. Read on to find out more.
What do you think of employers’ involvement with UTCs?
Schools don’t exist solely to prepare children for work but it’s a very important part of what they do. I think the high level of employer engagement that UTCs have means they are able to work with students to ensure they develop the skills, attitudes and qualifications appropriate for the world of work. I think it’s very important that employers are involved in all forms of education but some partnerships that exist in other schools lack the depth and they don’t tie it in as well as UTCs do.
How do you think mainstream schools can work better with employers?
These partnerships are a reasonably high priority but I don’t think you can expect all schools to approach employers; many employers would be inundated with requests. Instead, I think we need some kind of infrastructure in place to broker the relationships between businesses and schools. In the past this was done by the organisation Business Partnerships, now the Careers and Enterprise Company is beginning to work on in it but it has a long way to go.
What do you think of the opportunities available to UTC students, for example, work experience with employers on real projects?
UTCs have got this right because they have made it a priority but it is what work experience should be like in all schools. It’s a great idea to work on real and relevant projects and I like the idea of ongoing contact. Schools often have a one off speaker, or students complete work experience but it’s not necessarily relevant to what they want to do and it’s not linked in to the rest of their education. UTCs are doing this excellently.
What do you think are the benefits of young people specialising in technical education from the age of 14?
I wouldn’t be in favour of UTCs if at age 14 all other doors were closed but what they do well is to provide a broad and balanced curriculum alongside their specialism. If a young person decides they want to do something else they can, they aren’t excluded from any options, but if they want to go into a job that needs technical skills then they have the advantage over other young people. They have had years of access to industry professionals, top quality equipment and teachers.
Some critics say that 14 is too young to specialise in a technical education, what would you say to them?
I agree that it would be too young if that was all they were doing but the key thing with UTCs is that they still offer a broad and balanced curriculum as well as their technical specialism. Good quality teaching of the technical skills that are so important to our economy can only be an advantage.
What kinds of skills do you think young people tend to lack when they leave school?
They lack hard skills; they don’t have the experience of the latest equipment and the latest technology which UTC students do. And UTC students are also picking up a range of soft skills such as teamwork and presentation skills through their project work with employers, which are very important.
How do you think careers advice across all schools could be improved to help students decide on their education and career path?
I don’t think it’s very good at the moment and I’m worried that we don’t do enough in schools. There are two aspects to careers education; firstly the information young people are given needs to be accurate, up to date and presented in a way that they understand; secondly young people need help in assessing themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, and they need guidance in how to gather information and process it before coming to a decision. Just having employers visit schools to tell children about the place of work is not good enough.
What advice would you give to a 14 year old who is deciding which path to take?
Keep your options open, look broad. Think carefully about your own skills and where you see yourself but also think about the future economy, where will the jobs be? Challenge yourself and look for well-equipped schools that will give you a range of opportunities.
Why do you think people should #ThinkUTC?
UTCs are relatively new but they have good priorities and have made a real difference to technical and vocational skills. It’s the first time we’ve had a high performing group of schools concentrating on this area. Historically, schools that have tried to do this or courses that have been offered have been seen as second best, even if they aren’t - UTCs have raised the status of technical skills.