Education: New UTC would hit our existing colleges

Copy of letter to The Rt Hon The Lord Baker of Dorking CH

Re Proposed University Technical College in Scarborough.

I understand from my local newspaper, the Scarborough News, that you will be speaking in support of the establishment of a University Technical College (UTC) to Scarborough business ambassadors on Thursday February 27. I would be grateful if you would consider the views expressed in this letter before giving your speech.

I have a high regard for the work of the Scarborough business ambassadors. As champions of engineering and manufacturing they have promoted Scarborough Engineering Week, with the aim of encouraging school leavers to consider engineering as a career choice. These successful events have benefited school leavers by enabling them to make informed decisions about their future careers.

I share the view of Scarborough business ambassadors that a broad and well founded technical education for school leavers can have enormous benefits for the young person, their employers and the wider community. Good qualifications are the key to raising career aspirations beyond short term zero hours contracts at minimum pay and I fully support the ambassadors’ aim of providing high quality technical education.

My main concerns about the proposal to establish a University Technical College at Scarborough are the unintended consequences that may occur.

We are fortunate to now have two good colleges in Scarborough. It is a matter of public record that since Incorporation in 1993 the Yorkshire Coast College has gone through some difficult times. It is fair to say that the Yorkshire Coast College failed the local community, including business leaders, following their gaining the independence of Incorporation.

However, since amalgamating with Grimsby Institute, the college has made many improvements and was recently graded by Ofsted as good.

Scarborough 6th Form College has always been an excellent college that meets the broad educational needs of our local community.

The college has been rock steady as an educational institution as it avoided the pitfalls that beset the Yorkshire Coast College.

The 6th Form College has continued to develop its buildings and educational provision for a wider range of students. It had an important role in a small and remote town such as Scarborough of maintaining a high level of educational quality and choice when the Yorkshire Coast College was a failing college.

As I understand them, the proposals for a University Technical College include an intake of 600 students and the addition of A level provision as well as the technical and vocational element of training and education.

This can only be achieved by reducing the number of students attending either or both of our established colleges.

As a former education secretary, you will readily understand that colleges can quickly lose financial stability if they do not have the economy of scale to offer a broad provision of viable courses. In my view, it is essential that the two colleges should continue to develop without the risk of being placed into financial and educational jeopardy.

You will no doubt be told that Scarborough’s population is planned to increase by 30,000 and an additional University Technical College would not reduce the viability of our other two colleges. I would suggest that such a view is, at best, naïve.

As a former education secretary, you hold a strong influence upon any decision that may be taken to establish a University Technical College. Public funding is being sought by the Scarborough ambassadors, and I have no doubt that the Skills Funding Agency will feel the political pressure of supporting a development that, on paper, would lead to improvements in quality and choice in the Scarborough area.

There will be a stampede of expensive consultants who will claim to provide an independent assessment of needs, and recommend the establishment of a University Technical College. Scarborough has not been well served by such consultants in the past, and we should beware of further experiments in local education and training.

It has taken the Yorkshire Coast College 20 years to recover from the activities of ‘independent consultants’ immediately after Incorporation and we should not risk the progress made.

May I suggest a challenge to the Scarborough business ambassadors and other visionary leaders?

They want to see an improved level of high quality training and education in the Scarborough area and there are two good local colleges.

Clearly, there is an opportunity to achieve an outcome that secures the training needs of local engineering and manufacturing businesses, whilst avoiding the dangers of duplication and waste of public resources. My challenge to the Scarborough ambassadors is to work closely with both of our colleges to achieve the outcome they seek. The Yorkshire Coast College should be the focal point of high quality engineering and manufacturing training.

The Scarborough business ambassadors should fight for an improved quality of provision that matches their training needs.

It would be an excellent opportunity for Grimsby Institute and the Skills Funding Agency to demonstrate their commitment to investing in high quality training in Scarborough.

Scarborough 6th Form College is a very good college that has excellent teachers and facilities for, amongst other subjects, mathematics and physics – both essential for engineering subjects.

Why cannot the Scarborough business ambassadors use their considerable talents to promote their business interests whilst also improving local provision for education and training?

This is far too important for us to sleepwalk into yet more mistakes.

In my view, there should be an informed local discussion about the proposals I have read about in the Scarborough News.

I would be grateful if you would consider my views and encourage further informed debate when giving advice to the ambassadors.

John Buckley

Bridge Close