Businesses from across the Sheffield City Region have been urged to throw their weight behind the region’s new University Technical College and end the snobbery that has set back technical studies for over a century.
The call came from Lord Baker, who, as Kenneth Baker was Education Secretary in Margaret Thatcher’s government and more recently played a key role in setting up the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, which is promoting the growth of the new colleges.
Lord Baker told local business chiefs gathered in the Cutlers’ Hall to hear about the Sheffield University Technical College (UTC): “We are giving you a much greater involvement in the educational process than industry has ever had in this country.”
He contrasted the UK experience with the experience in Germany after the Second World War.
The Germans had adopted the British educational system, with its selective Grammar and technical schools and secondary schools, and reaped the success.
Meanwhile, in Britain, technical schools become “victims of English snobbery” and were closed.
“We expect local companies to get really engaged and work with the University technical College in a way that they have never been given the chance before,” said Lord Baker.
“We want their involvement, not just to provide work experience or apprenticeships. You are going to be given the chance to shape what is being taught in the college. I want to ask you in business to help to shape the curriculum.”
Lord Baker said the response from business across the country to the UTC initiative had been “quite staggering,” adding that the new colleges were “revolutionary in the English educational system.”
The experience of the two existing UTC had shown how they could make a significant change to pupils attitudes and capabilities thanks to a combination of treating them as adults and relating their studies to practical projects, set by business.
“Two UTCs have been operating for a year and a half and have noticed massive behavioural changes,” said Lord Baker. “Truancy and bloody-mindedness has almost disappeared.”
Lord Baker told local business chiefs the British system of starting secondary education at 11 was a hangover from the requirements of Grammar Schools.
He believes 14 is the right age to start “secondary” education, because pupils had a clearer understanding of what they want to do with their lives by then and hopes the change will cascade through the British educational system.
“I’m quite convinced that pupils at 14 can decide where their interest lies. What the educational system has to do is to develop institutions that cater for their aspirations,” he told the Cutlers’ Hall meeting.