Go-ahead for Norwich technical college could be weeks away

Norwich could be just a few weeks away from getting the go-ahead to open one of England's first university technical colleges, it was revealed today.

But education officials behind the groundbreaking plan are keeping the exact location of the UTC under wraps.

City College Norwich has joined forces with the University of East Anglia (UEA) to launch the plan – one of potentially dozens across England that could give thousands of young people the skills to work in the energy and engineering industries.

It has attracted support from a host of local and national companies, including East of England Energy Ground, Hethel Engineering Centre and the National Engineering Foundation.

City College Norwich principal Dick Palmer, left, said the project, which was approved in principle by ministers in December and would take up to 600 14 to 19-year-olds, could be a few weeks from getting the final go-ahead.

He said progress was being made on finding a building. 'We are hoping to buy a site in Norwich. It's an existing building that we want to convert. It's in the city, but commercial confidentiality means we cannot say any more at the moment.

'It's still possible that we could open it by September. That's what the Department for Education (DfE) has asked us to work towards. It will be a phased beginning. It won't start with all four years at the same time.

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'It would probably start with one cohort and take four years to get completely off the ground.'

He said there would be two potential entry points – at ages 14 and 16 – and added: 'We are working with planned UTCs at Walsall, Hackney and the JCB Academy in Staffordshire. They are facing the same jigsaw puzzle.

'We need to create a curriculum that's different to what goes on in local authority schools, academies and free schools.'

He revealed plans for a more 'exciting' approach to learning. 'We are looking at delivering the GCSE element of double science and other subjects, not through the traditional and quite boring chalk and talk route, but through an inter-curriculum route.

'Students taking maths, science and engineering would learn through activities and problem solving and tasks set by employers.

'We are also creating two groups. The first is an employers' advisory board looking at the work element of it and the various competencies and skills local employers need. We will be meeting them in early February.

'The second group will be local headteachers. We are working with two from the central area and one from each other area of Norfolk to look at how the UTC will integrate with the school system.'

Mr Palmer also revealed that those behind the Norwich-based UTC were leading efforts to convince the government to devise a 'technical baccalaureate' to head off fears that thousands of young people could be alienated by an academic and vocational education divide.

The recent introduction of the English baccalaureate - recognised in school league tables and including GCSEs in English, maths, double science, a modern foreign language and history or geography - sparked concerns that practical subjects could be squeezed out.

Mr Palmer said: 'We are talking to the government about whether there's any possibility of a technical baccalaureate to sit alongside the English baccalaureate.

'I think the UTC is perfectly placed to knock the academic and vocational divide on the head. We want to create a college that will provide a new academic route into higher education.'

He said that the proposed new qualification would be made up of English, maths, double science, digital technology and engineering.