UTC South Durham opens its doors to the first students

New University Technical College – UTC South Durham – welcomed its first intake of students this week; almost exactly one year since building work began at Long Tens Way, on Aycliffe Business Park, close to Hitachi Rail Europe’s new rail vehicle manufacturing facility.

Founded by the University of Sunderland and business partners Hitachi Rail Europe and Gestamp Tallent, the new University Technical College (UTC) is the first UTC to be established in the North East. It will teach students aged between 14 and 19 academic and technical subjects supplemented by workplace learning, giving young people the skills and qualifications required to enter a wide range of exciting careers.

Tom Dower, Principal of UTC South Durham, said: “We’re providing a very different education for students which focuses on hands-on learning to prepare young people for the world of work. We’ve worked hard to design the spaces, build links with employers and design a curriculum which gives students a real insight into working life and the skills needed to succeed.”

The school is more than a technical college and academically there are high expectations of UTC South Durham’s students, with many expected to go on to further and higher education.

Professor Gary Holmes, Chair of UTC South Durham’s Trustees and Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sunderland, said: “The UTC movement has looked to countries like Germany and Austria in developing these schools. Countries where technical knowledge and expertise are valued and engineering is a career option which attracts the brightest and best students. The UTC model is a way of shifting perceptions of technical subjects and careers, as well as developing a future generation of workers with the skills that companies need to succeed and grow.”

The UTC operates a business-like environment with a longer than average school day, staff called by their first names and no bells. Students undertake visits and placements in companies as well as projects with the UTC.

Darren Cumner, Manufacturing Plant Manager at Hitachi Rail Europe and Trustee of UTC South Durham, said: “We wanted to help create a pipeline of young people to become the next generation of engineers, technicians and managers in the North East. This is a life-changing opportunity for young people to explore careers in industry and for employers to get to know and shape their future workforce.”

UTC South Durham is situated on Aycliffe Business Park, a business area which employs 10,000 people and is home to over 200 advanced manufacturing businesses. As well as its close links with founding business partners Hitachi Rail Europe and Gestamp Tallent, the UTC will work with over 30 employers.

Peter Gallone, UK Group Managing Director at Gestamp Tallent, said: “Local engineering and advanced manufacturing businesses rely heavily on people and it’s crucial they have the right skills. There are large skills deficiencies both locally and nationally and having the UTC here in Aycliffe is the ideal platform to address this.”

The partners have worked with Ryder Architecture on the design of the new school and the construction contractor is Willmott Dixon.

UTC South Durham is designed to look more like a modern business premises than a school. The main entrance connects directly to the dramatic, triple-height ‘engineering hall’. As well as giving students and visitors an awe-inspiring welcome as they enter it’s also a practical and versatile space, able to house massive equipment or work. The school is kitted out with general and specialist engineering equipment such as computer-aided design, science laboratories and workshops.

Tom Dower continued: “We wanted our students to feel inspired by arriving at the UTC each day, knowing that they are coming to work to prepare themselves for outstanding careers. The longer day, first name terms with staff and independent working time are all part of building the skills that employers are searching for.”

Students come from a wide geographical area with young people from over 25 schools across five counties in the UTC’s first intake. Access to the UTC is off Newton Aycliffe’s Long Tens Way and as well as a car park there are also spaces for bicycles and transport options include minibuses to bring in students from hard to access locations.

Recruitment for the September 2017 intake has already begun; anyone interested in a radically different approach to education should visit http://www.utcsouthdurham.org for more details.

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