MORE tantalising details have been revealed about Swindon’s £10m university technical college, which it is hoped will be built at an historic site in the town’s railway heartland.
UTC Swindon, which would specialise in engineering with business and enterprise and entrepreneurship, would be for 14 to 19-year-olds in the Swindon area who would access high-quality education and training, supported by a range of partners including local companies.
The project, kickstarted by Swindon Council, is now led by Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells, an international hi-tech firm that has its headquarters at Lydiard Fields, as the main business sponsor, and Oxford Brookes University as the university sponsor.
The Mill Site, part of the Network Rail Estate off Bristol Street, was yesterday announced as the preferred location, and further details have since been revealed about how UTC Swindon would become set up and established as a key local institute.
Subject to the necessary approval, the team aims to open the UTC in September 2014, with a principal and shadow academy trust to be appointed by September this year.
The sponsors would decide whether Swindon Council has a governor.
In the first year, students would be able to enrol either aged 14, in Year 10, or aged 16, in Year 12, with a maximum of 150 children per year group.
The admission process would be the same as for schools, with parents asked to apply for a place, and it is hoped there would be enough demand to fill the centre’s 600 capacity in just two years. The catchment area would be about 18 miles.
Johnson Matthey and Oxford Brookes are currently in the process of designing an engineering-focused curriculum for UTC Swindon, which would be supported by business and enterprise, to provide skilled potential employees for local, regional and national employers.
Students would gain a higher education qualification or apprenticeship.
During a typical 9am to 5pm day at UTC Swindon, students would combine practice and theory.
They would get at least one week of on-site work experience during their study, but it is intended that staff from local employers, such as Honda and BMW, would work with teachers to deliver lessons and lead some modules and provide work experience.
The curriculum would offer three basic qualifications: A-levels in technical subjects; a new vocational course being developed by the Royal Academy of Engineering; and a new Technical Baccalaure-ate being developed by the Baker Dearing Trust.
Paul Inman, pro vice chancellor at Oxford Brookes University, said there were representatives from Swindon College and secondary schools on the project board to inform the curriculum and ensure Swindon UTC would offer something different.
He said: “We have involved secondary heads in the Swindon area in the development of the proposal.
“We are working with Swindon College just to make sure there’s a difference in the offer, because of course Swindon College may move into that 14 to 19 agenda if they wish, and the autumn statement by the chancellor has given them the option to do that.
“It’s not made that decision at the moment.
“But I think because the principal of Swindon College is also on the advisory group, also a trustee of the UTC in Swindon, we’re just trying to keep everyone together and talk these things through.”
UTC Swindon would compete for pupils with other local schools and colleges, but Coun David Renard, Swindon Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said there was a growing secondary school population in Swindon and the UTC would provide more choice for youngsters.
He said: “I’m sure the sponsors will want to promote the benefits of having an education at Swindon UTC once it’s open.
“So I’m sure they will be making a big presentation on that at the appropriate time, but clearly if you haven’t got a young person with an interest in engineering, you wouldn’t want to consider it anyway.
“But it’s adding to the mix and any young person who goes to the UTC, because of the very close links with employers, will be sure of getting an education that will stand them in stead for the future to help them get a career.”
Coun Renard said the Government had offered between £7m and £10m towards the work to build the UTC and Swindon Council had committed another £500,000.
He explained that most local authorities involved in establishing UTCs offered the land or buildings, but Swindon Council could not do this as it wanted it in Swindon’s historic engineering centre.
Oxford Brookes and Johnson Matthey have not offered any cash, but Coun Renard said: “I don’t think we should underestimate the amount of time and commitment the people from Oxford Brookes and Johnson Matthey have put into this project.
“There are some very senior people who are making a large commitment in their time and the companies’ resources to work with us to make this a reality.”