Fast-growing Doncaster UTC could soon be biggest college of its kind in the country
This time last year, Doncaster University Technical College was not even completed.
But in September, it could be the biggest college of its type in the country.
With construction delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, the students at the college were only able to get their education in September by travelling to the National College For Advanced Transport and Infrastructure, at Lakeside, which provided space for a temporary base.
By October, the new building on College Road was complete – but the pandemic meant youngsters were still not able to use the state of the art engineering equipment there, because of concerns about keeping it cleaned.
Since March, the equipment is in full use.
And now, things are taking off.
Already, there are 277 youngsters at the college in year nine and year 12 groups.
But with massive interest again this year, it is set to be oversubscribed again. Next year will see 150 new faces in year 12. There are 283 applications. There will also be 160 new starters in year nine. It will take the full roll to 587, which bosses believe will make it the largest UTC in the country.
On top of that, there will be new courses starting at the college which specialises in engineering, creative digital and medical science.
A collaboration with Sheffield University and Nottingham University will see the first medical science course at the venue, which also has links to the pathology service at the Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals.
And they are also setting up a cybersecurity course, set up in a custom built suite, after being told by partners in industry that there is big demand for jobs in that sector.
Principal Garath Rawson said: “Opening has been interesting, but it has been really positive. It has come with difficulties with the pandemic. Opening a new school was alway going to be a challenge – Covid made it more so.
"But we have been oversubscribed this year, and we’ll be oversubscribed next year.
"Despite the pandemic, we’ve brought education and employers together. Straight away, we started with Wednesday work day, where people from industry spoke to the students. That was done on video conferencing, but that had the spin off that some ran more sessions with us because they didn’t need as much time because of travel.
"We’ve had HSBC showing how percentages work using mortgages and interest. We’ve had Paul Stockhill from the Doncaster engineering company Agema Spark, and people from Sheffield Hallam University, leading to a digital project.
"I think the children have been blown away by it, and we’ve raised aspirations.”
He said it had helped that they were part of a bigger trust, under the umbrella of the Doncaster-based Brighter Futures Learning Partnership Trust, which also runs Hungerhill School and several primary schools. It frees Mr Rawson up from areas of administration like human resources so he can concentrate on work such as the school’s curriculum.
It has also encouraged many pupils from the trust’s other schools to apply for the college, and allowed it to share some of its staffing costs with the trust’s other schools, with some teachers working across sites.
The boards which run the college includes people from employers, such as Mr Stockhill at Agema Spark, and many other businesses.
That has already led to decisions being made, like the introduction of the cybersecurity course.
"There is a big push on cybersecurity in industry,” said Mr Rawson. “We’ve got experts to run a course. This is after employers said there was a big skills gap in cybersecurity. It is the employers who identify the skills that children need.”
They have set up education passports, which are stamped by employers, to show pupils have covered certain skills.
The school has already had a visit from a Government minister, Baroness Berridge, minister for women in the department for education.
Helen Redford-Hernandez, chief executive of the Brighter Futures trust said: “I think she was in awe of what we’ve achieved. We are the first UTC to open with so many pupils, but also the quality of what is being done.”
Pupils in the first intake told of their experience at the college.
Madison Smith, aged 14, said she had decided to apply because she was interested in engineering, because she thought there would be good travel opportunities. She said she had enjoyed projects with employers the most. “It’s really different from my last school. The subjects are connected in a way that makes them make sense,” she said.
Alistair Robertson, aged 14, also wants to get into engineering – his dream is to work on space projects or ships.
"The UTC has been way more than I’d expected,” he said. “I didn’t expect quite as much engineering. I love engineering and maths and the way they link together. I’d love to work on big machines like cruise ships or space shuttles.”
Gabriel Fenning, aged 14, said he wanted to go to the UTC because of its digital lessons. He said he had found it had more advanced software and languages that he could work with.
"It’s a £13m building, and it shows,” he said. “I’ve been using state of the art Imax suites and the media room. I’ve found a lot of the teachers are really interested in what they’re teaching too.”
He said he hoped to be a Youtuber when he leaves.
Romilly Chorlton-Jones, aged 13, said she wanted to come to the UTC because there was more freedom to do her own research and do independent learning than her previous school.
"We have more opportunities to work on different things,” she said. “I want to be a graphic designer for video games.
"Coming here has made me want to push for that. When I came here I didn’t know how to use things like Photoshop, I know what I’m doing on it really well now."