Bid to close skills gap with North East technical college

A second bid has been launched to create the North East's first University Technical College (UTC) close to a massive train assembly factory

Prof Gary Holmes, Pro-Vice Chancellor at the University of Sunderland
Prof Gary Holmes, Pro-Vice Chancellor at the University of Sunderland

A second bid has been launched to create the North East’s first University Technical College (UTC) close to a massive train assembly factory.

The application for a UTC on land near the Hitachi plant being built at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, was turned down by the Department for Education in the last round of applications.

But now the scheme - which is backed by Hitachi Rail Europe, fellow manufacturers Gestamp Tallent Automotive and Sunderland University - is being revived in the hope of winning Government backing.

The second application comes after Hitachi announced this week that it is moving its global rail business from Japan to the UK, while Newcastle College is also trying to plug a skills gap with the launch of a rail academy on Tyneside.

Prof Gary Holmes, Pro-Vice Chancellor at the University of Sunderland, said: “The North East region suffers higher general unemployment than do other regions nationally.

“However, the engineering industry is in good shape in our region and has been suffering from skills shortages and unfilled vacancies. There is a particular need for the well-skilled across the sector. Current trends suggest this employment sector will grow yet stronger.

“The arrival of Hitachi Rail Europe as a major new employer adds to what is already a major engineering presence.

“Therefore a major new impetus in education and training is needed to help build a highly skilled workforce for a prosperous future. There is an opportunity here to make a major contribution to the region’s prosperity as well as to the life chances and future security of our young people.”

UTCs have their origins in the technical schools, offering excellent general education at GCSE but also devoting 40% of the curriculum to the Engineering specialism including work placements, on the job experience and project activity linking to that specialism.

UTCs are state funded independent schools which receive their funding direct from Government in the same way as academies, free schools and studio schools.

So far around 20 have been set up in England but none are operating in the North East at present.

If approved, it is hoped to provisionally open the UTC from September 2016 in Newton Aycliffe Business Park, which has excellent public transport links to the sub region.

The UTC will have an intake of up to 150 students each year, to be recruited from a wide catchment across the South Durham and Teesside area. Students join UTCs at 14 (Year 10) and may also join at Year 12 (sixth form) for post-16 courses.

The total school roll in full operation will be between 550 and 600 students.

The success of the revised bid will be strengthened by engaging the views of employers, the community and, most importantly, parents and pupils, in the South West Durham area.

A survey takes place over the next four weeks, and parents and potential pupils, who will be either 14 or 16 by September 2016, are being urged to make their opinions count.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer