Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

On a Quest to Find the Vocational Holy Grail

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

On a Quest to Find the Vocational Holy Grail

Article excerpt

A collaboration between an FE college, a school and employers in the North East could provide a template for 14-19 education

If efforts to bridge the academic-vocational divide could be described in terms of a quest, then its holy grail would be a mutually beneficial relationship between school, college and employer. A unique project in the North East of England, which sets out to address the skills gap faced by industry, may succeed in creating such a collaboration.

This September in South Tyneside, a leading FE college and an outstanding-rated school, with the backing of several major employers, will open a joint venture specialising in engineering, advanced manufacturing and computer science.

Career College North East will provide the best of academic and vocational education to young people aged 14-19, its founders say, offering a clear line of sight to a career. They hope the college will illustrate how the school and FE sectors can work together to provide innovative education pathways. Significantly, this is the first time a career college has partnered with a school in this way.

Strength in numbers

South Tyneside College will provide the vocational know-how, St Wilfrid's RC College will deliver the academic expertise, and employers including Siemens and Ford Aerospace will help to design and deliver the curriculum, as well as offering work experience opportunities to students.

"Each will play to their strengths to provide the best possible education for young people," says Ruth Gilbert, chief executive of the Career Colleges Trust. "The reason why this is special and distinct is that it doesn't set out to reinvent the wheel. It's collaboration in its best form, which plays to the strengths of the institutions. That's rare in a formal, long-term arrangement."

Alison Maynard, principal of South Tyneside College, says the idea of setting up a career college stemmed from a realisation that more needed to be done to address local skills gaps.

"We have an ageing population in the engineering and advanced manufacturing sectors," she explains. "Skills in those areas have declined to the point where we have had to bring in people from abroad.

"We are now in a situation where there's an upturn [in the economy] and we don't have the skills coming through. Companies are moving in, others are growing and they need those skills. You need to have a supply chain."

Indeed, as part of a government-sponsored City Deal to boost local growth, an international advanced manufacturing park will be opening on the college's doorstep, offering huge employment potential. But Maynard says the college was reluctant to launch the venture on its own, preferring to partner with a school to tap into its academic knowledge and experience of teaching younger pupils.

"We are a very strong FE college, but I personally don't have experience in pre-16 education," she says. "Having a school on board brings in that pre-16 experience and allows us to integrate academic education into the vocational curriculum.

"It will help students understand how academic subjects like maths and English are related to their future employment, and hopefully make them more employable."

Essential skills

St Wilfrid's heard about the college's plans and made contact. …

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