Delivering Technical Education

Technical education offers young people a clear route from school into rewarding technician occupations, and progression to higher education for those who wish to study further before entering employment. The implementation of the Sainsbury Review recommendations will bring a step-change in the quality of technical education provision in England.

Female student with technical drawings
Male student working on technical drawing in engineering department at college
Students in an engineering workshop
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Our work to support the delivery of high-quality technical education focuses on ensuring appropriate infrastructure is in place. This includes:  

  • engaged and well-informed local decision-makers (including LEPs, City Regions and Combined Authorities)
  • suitably qualified teachers
  • appropriate training facilities
  • robust evidence regarding local and national labour markets, and
  • fit-for-purpose funding levels and mechanisms.

Further details of each of these strands of work can be found below. 

Getting routes ready

Local coherent planning of technical education

High-quality technical education requires a learning environment with industry-standard facilities and expert staff, and commonly includes specialist training that is only needed by relatively small numbers of individuals. This can present a challenge for FE providers in achieving viable group numbers for training provision. Addressing this challenge requires a coherent approach to planning of technical education in a local area, underpinned by good labour market intelligence from employers. Since 2013, we have worked to build relationships in several local areas to drive coherent planning of and improvement in technical education: aligning provision more closely to labour market demand; reducing unnecessary duplication offered by providers; and investing in greater specialisation of resources. We also undertook a small piece of work with the Royal Academy of Engineering to look at the provision of engineering facilities across further education colleges in England. This report, which identified the equipment needed by a college to deliver broad engineering education at Level 3, is available to read here

Following the publication of the Sainsbury Panel Report, we are working with Sheffield City Region, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, West Midlands Combined Authority and Lancashire Skills Hub to support further education in these areas to become ‘routes ready’ for the introduction of Technical Education reforms.

This work includes: analysing the route occupational maps and local labour market information, to identify priority pathways for the area; working with colleges to review facilities and staffing expertise and build coherent planning for provision of technical education routes; engaging employer support for work placements; and embedding clear messages regarding technical education in local career guidance work.

Supporting delivery of new technical education routes

One of the recommendations of the Sainsbury Review was that all young people following a college-based technical education programme should be entitled to a high-quality, structured industry placement. While extended industry placements are commonly seen in countries with strong classroom-based technical education, this is not the norm in England. Here students may undertake short periods of work experience, perhaps lasting one or two weeks, which is not always related to the occupations the students are interested in pursuing. Such experience is worthwhile to give young people some experience of a working environment, but it is not sufficient to contribute to a deeper development of knowledge and skills as part of their technical education. For that the Sainsbury Review recommended an industry placement lasting up to three months being required.

Between October 2016 and March 2017, Gatsby and staff from the Department for Education undertook joint study visits to explore how industry placements are structured in six routes-based systems: Austria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. The visits aimed to identify key factors that need to be in place for successful implementation of industry placements for students in England.  We met with a variety of stakeholders on the visits, including: senior Ministry of Education officials in other countries; colleges and employers where students were on placements; and social partners such as employer organisations and unions.  A different senior leader from an English FE college joined each visit, to give insight into how these enabling factors might be fostered in practice. 

As part of our aim to build more of an evidence base around work placement provision, we commissioned the University of Derby to carry out a short piece of research into the current provision of work placements in four technical route areas – Construction, Childcare & Education, Engineering & Manufacturing, and Creative & Design. The aim of this work is to identify how learning takes place on work placements in England currently, and what lessons can be learned for implementation of extended work placements. 

FE workforce

Specialist teacher education and training

Initial Teacher Education (ITE) for FE teachers is predominantly undertaken in-service, and is typically generic. Support for the development of subject-specific teaching is expected to come from mentoring opportunities within a college. However, our work in this field has shown subject mentoring opportunities to be highly variable. 

We commissioned Dr Ron Thompson to review the landscape of initial teacher education for FE teachers to identify opportunities for strengthening subject-specialist training. In 2014/15, we supported the development of teacher CPD modules in several technical subject areas. This work is being scaled up by Professor Kevin Orr (University of Huddersfield), whose team have produced a supplementary ITE STEM teaching module, which is being trialled with a small pilot group. The module offers new teachers a framework for thinking about their pedagogy – the many decisions a teacher makes when working with students – focusing particularly on decision-making related to technical education in STEM fields, for example, the importance of connecting curriculum to the workplace.

Mentoring for FE teachers

While considerable research has explored the benefits of mentoring for teachers in schools, very little had looked at mentoring in FE. We supported the University of Brighton to examine existing mentor support for FE teachers offered in individual colleges, and the potential benefits and challenges for introducing an external mentoring support programme. An executive summary of the project report is available here. The full report may also be downloaded here.

Further work exploring mentoring systems in a range of non-educational organisations was published in 2016 and is available to read here

Building on this work, the University of Brighton is developed a mentoring programme to support armed service leavers transitioning into FE teaching. This work is part of the Further Forces programme, which is a joint programme with the Education and Training Foundation and the Ministry of Defence. The programme targets personnel working in technician fields, such as electrical installation, motor vehicle maintenance and construction, and supports them moving into a career as an FE teacher. You can read more about this, here.

FE workforce numbers

A sufficient number of suitably qualified teachers is vital to delivering high-quality technical education. However, in recent years the FE workforce information gathered was not granular enough to measure the rich range of experience held by FE teachers in STEM subjects. This hampered the ability to take a strategic approach to planning support for initial teacher education and continuing professional development. Working with the Nuffield Foundation, Gatsby commissioned in 2015 a survey to profile the background and experience of STEM teachers in FE colleges. This research reported in July 2015 and the reports are available here.

The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) are responsible for collecting data on the FE workforce, via the Staff Individualised Record (SIR). The SIR has recently been updated to include more granular information on subjects taught and qualifications held by teachers. The most recent reports published by ETF are available here

Other relevant work

GTA England

GTAs are not-for-profit partnerships between groups of employers that deliver off-the-job training for the employers’ apprentices. Gatsby has supported GTA England to increase the size of the network, support growth of apprentice numbers, and encourage greater alignment of GTA training with professional registration. 

University Technical Colleges

University Technical Colleges (UTCs) are technical secondary schools for 14-18 year olds. They offer young people a broad curriculum that combines an academic education with technical and practical learning. UTCs teach one or more technical specialisms that meet the needs of STEM-related skills shortages in their region including engineering, product design, health sciences and computer science.

Each UTC is established and sponsored by its local university and a number of local employers who work together with other partners to agree the specialisms, which reflects the university’s area of excellence and local employment priorities. This gives students clear progression routes into further and higher education and local industry.

The design of each UTC is influenced by its chosen specialism, with workspace and modern equipment installed to reflect industrial practice. Individuals with recent enterprise experience in the specialism are recruited and trained to teach alongside staff from more traditional teaching backgrounds. Students learn in a very practical way, studying technical subjects alongside the underpinning subjects of English, mathematics, science and IT. To better prepare students for employment, UTCs adopt a longer school day – more reflective of working hours – and a longer school year. Students also benefit from experience of work and the opportunity to work on real-life projects which are set by employer partners.

The Baker Dearing Educational Trust was founded by Lord Baker and Lord Dearing to promote the concept of UTCs, and act as a central body providing advice and guidance to the UTC network. We believe UTCs have a strong role to play in meeting the UK’s demand for technical skills, and are providing core support to the Baker Dearing Educational Trust.

We are currently supporting a small piece of work to pilot the Teacher Effectiveness Enhancement Programme (TEEP, a professional development programme developed by Gatsby between 2002 and 2010) in four UTCs, to identify learnings that can then be disseminated across the network.