End the obsession with academia if you want to

rebuild the economy Comment by ALEX REYNOLDS, Principal, UTC Sheffield City Centre

Make, create, innovate. This is what UTCs do and that is why they are the right educational choice for many young people. While I welcome the

government's current focus on regenerating the economy through manufacturing and digital industries, I worry that that the current educational system will not let this happen University Technical

Colleges were established to work with our local universities and industries. We are proud to provide highly trained young people

to meet the needs of employers, not just filling the gaps they have now, but providing skilled young people who can step up for careers of the future. My own UTC is a case in point. We have two specialisms:

Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing and Creative and Digital Media. Students can join us in year 9 or year Y12 to study a combination of GCSEs/A Levels and a technical specialism. Sheffield, famous as Steel City, is also noted for its creative and

digital businesses, with clusters of small companies around our city centre college. These employ web developers, filmmakers, graphic designers and animators. Creative and Digital Media is a real growth area but the current

school system with its emphasis on ‘linear thinking’ skills is not equipping young people for new and emerging careers. For example, ten years ago, few companies were advertising jobs as social media managers, yet in an age where an online presence is all important this has become a key role in many companies. Part of our success is that we work closely with local employers

across all of our technical qualifications. While some schools and colleges may download assignments from the exam board website, we prefer to develop custom employer-led assessments that involve local industry or community organisations and solve real life problems. Our students go on to impressive destinations too. Big names such as

the BBC, Plusnet and Xerox and smaller companies such as Joi Polloi, a BAFTA award winning digital studio. We are unusual in terms of UTCs in that our KS4 intake starts in year

9. We need to build their practical skills as early as possible and year 10 is too late. Many young people are turned off by the current National Curriculum and the constant focus on GCSEs. Progress 8 is a straitjacket and denies young people the opportunities to find their talent in practical subjects. Sadly, the exam system exacerbates this. Many of our students take

Cambridge National Qualifications at KS4 which has 25% external assessment. This is almost certainly a written exam covering theoretical aspects of the course. That is perfectly reasonable. What concerns me is that Ofqual is now planning to move to 40% external assessment which means that these useful qualifications will be more about writing and less about doing. It is time for the government to move from their obsession with

academia and commit to vocational qualifications that teach the practical skills that our economy demands.


Covid needn’t scupper fundraising

Comment by KATE JILLINGS, founder of school community and fundraising software experts ToucanTech

Schools were suffering squeezed budgets long before the additional expenses of keeping going during the pandemic kicked in. Keeping pupils and staff safe has proved

costly while setting up remote learning platforms and paying for support staff to cover sickness and those having to isolate don’t come cheap. And schools serving disadvantaged areas have faced additional outlay as they help families struggling to keep their heads above water. The Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that school spending per pupil

in England fell by 9% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2019-20. This represents the largest cut in over 40 years, though these cuts come on the back of a significant increase in spending per pupil of over 60% during the 2000s. Research by the charity Parentkind shows its Parent Teacher

Association members have lost as much as £42m in fundraising this because of the pandemic. But these unprecedentedly difficult times are not the moment to let

efforts slip. Many schools need additional funds simply to keep going; others are

raising money for Covid hardship funds to help families facing particular pressures. So what are the key things to keep in mind when it comes to fundraising? Have a defined objective What do you want to raise money for? It makes it much easier to focus your efforts if you have a particular project in mind. And those you approach for contributions will immediately be engaged in your campaign. Know your school community What are the needs of your pupils, teaching staff and parents? By involving them in your fundraising, you’re far more likely to get ‘buy in’. Don’t forget your alumni Has your school kept in touch with its old boys and girls? Approached in the right way, many of them will be only too happy to make a contribution – often a sizeable one. But far too many schools rely on email addresses to stay in touch. These often expire as soon as the child leaves the school or a year later. Think about establishing a high-quality portal for managing donations from past pupils. It’s all about sustainability and building long-term relationships rather

than a quick cash and grab. You will be far better placed for future fundraising projects if you

establish an enduring relationship with alumni. And remember that giving isn’t just about money. Former pupils may be better placed to give ‘in kind’ with expertise or contacts. Make it personal Emails are a useful way to communicate with donors once your project is up and running. But initially, reaching out in person makes a much better impression and helps you to establish fruitful relationships quickly. Check out local traders Don’t forget that local businesses may be able to help you. Although they too are facing enormous financial problems, they may be able to offer assistance in terms of expertise or transport or manpower. Look beyond the school gates Talk to other schools in the area. It may be advantageous to join forces and work together on a particular project. Other school communities may bring additional strengths and experience to the table. Don’t let Covid gloom get your down Try to take an upbeat approach to your endeavours despite the very real challenges posed by the pandemic. Many schools have found that virtual events – quizzes, treasure hunts – have gone down a storm.

January 2021

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