Tuesday, March 01, 2011

In the news: academies, free schools and university technical colleges

In today’s Guardian an interview with former Tory education secretary Lord Baker highlights his recent work with Labour’s academies programme and now the Coalition on University Technical Colleges:

He is reviving the long-forgotten technical schools, which were enshrined, alongside grammar schools, in the 1944 Education Act, but which never got off the ground. They will be grandly, if rather confusingly, called university technical colleges (UTCs). One has already opened in Staffordshire – across the road from its sponsor, the big machinery maker JCB – and Baker has government support and funding to set up another 15. But that's just the start. "I want a hundred by 2015," Baker says. "After about 10 years, there will probably be 200 to 300." At the minimum, the initial costs will be £3m each. To hear Baker talk, you'd think the words "deficit reduction" had never been uttered; his fellow ministers used to say he was never knowingly underbid in public spending rounds. He has no truck with suggestions that the colleges are experimental. "This has become a movement," he proclaims.

The UTCs will cater for 14-to19-year-olds and offer a technical curriculum. The students will undertake 40-80 days' work experience each year on top of a nine hour day for 40 weeks a year. Lord Baker claims the support of Jaguar, Rolls-Royce, National Grid, British Aerospace, Siemens and Toyota for his movement.

The UTCs have been under the political and media radar. That might well change.

Selection and admission policies are always visible. This morning the Daily Telegraph reports (or maybe warns its readers) that the Coalition will consult over changes to the school admissions code in England which would give academies and free schools the freedom to prioritise deprived children when places are oversubscribed.

Today’s Financial Times highlights the problems of the Department for Education – in particular its ability to deliver the reform policies set out in the DfE business plan (pdf available). It notes the delays in changing planning rules to allow free schools in a variety of non-educational buildings.

Education Executive reports on the Free School Kit from Partnerships for Schools which will assist parents and others in their search for a site for a new school. The Kit is available online and allows parents to explore the geographical area where they propose setting up a new school, helping them to understand more about the existing educational landscape including pupil attainment, the percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals, Ofsted ratings, surplus places, etc. It is intended to find the “hot spots” of unmet parental demand.

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