UTC Reading - Top of Class
The first Ofsted outstanding UTC in England
Top of Class
UTC Reading is one of 48 University Technical Colleges (UTCs) in England, delivering computer science, engineering and industrial training to 14-19 year olds, with a curriculum that aims to maximise its students’ future employment opportunities reflecting the needs of local businesses.
The UTC model was developed by the Baker Dearing Education Trust as part of the then Labour government’s vision to align learning with local industry and reduce the numbers of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs). The first UTCs opened in 2013.
Executive Principal Joanne Harper and vice Principal Wayne Edwards were recruited before the UTC site was built. As Joanne says:
"We were working from a blank canvas, which gave us freedom in terms of how we developed the college, but also brought with it the responsibility of developing a blueprint and making sure we got it right."
– Joanne Harper, Executive Principal
Having transformed a struggling London secondary school into an outstanding institution, Joanne knew that UTC Reading’s success depended on attracting staff who were prepared to participate in extended school days, parents who felt confident about moving their 14 years olds to a new educational model, and buy-in from the local business community.
To this end, the UTC’s senior leadership team (SLT) met regularly with Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Local Enterprise Partnership, and hosted pre-opening meetings for potential industry partners.
Innovation in Education
The college opened in 2013 with 140 students. By 2016, this number had risen to 450.
The SLT combines educational knowledge and business expertise. Alongside Joanne and Wayne sits Business Relations Manager Michael Halliday, who joined UTC Reading in December 2014 to consolidate business relationships and maximise student employment opportunities.
Every element of the college is designed to prepare young people for working life, from longer classroom days to a smart dress code and laptops for all students.
"Each individual’s progress is closely monitored using a flagging system so that we know when students need additional support negotiating their futures,"
– Michael Halliday, Business Relations Manager
Cisco - partnership working
The UTC’s relationship with Cisco began at a meeting for local businesses held by MP for Reading East, Rob Wilson.
Cisco’s project team, comprising technology and education specialists, worked with the UTC and the Baker Dearing Education Trust to create an IT roadmap that complemented the overall UTC model and supported Reading’s specific brief.
A complicated project with multiple engineering requirements, Cisco delivered a robust networking and infrastructure including Cisco routers, switches, racks, Telepresence video conferencing facilities and a secure Wi-Fi connection for instant access to the UTC’s online resources.
In addition, Cisco supported the development of two computer rooms and a Cisco lab for students to complete the CCNA part 1 qualification.
UTC Reading and Cisco
“As part of our commitment to corporate social responsibility, Cisco also offers teaching support, work experience opportunities, awards sponsorship and taster events, where students can meet Cisco apprentices,” says Cisco’s executive sponsor Guy Howell.
Cisco’s HR team also provides a STEM adviser, and the company runs core projects offering practical working experience:
Classroom of the Future: this early collaboration consisted of 250 students split into teams including marketing, finance, business case, technology and security, in a competitive project to design their ideal classroom of the future.
Internet of Things (IoT): a six-month project where 40 teams of computing students created IoT solutions, concluding in April 2017 with an IT expo showcasing their achievements.
The great thing about working with Cisco...
...is the impact of business partnerships on students
“Another great thing about working with businesses like Cisco is the impact it has on our students when senior members of the team visit,” says Joanne Harper. “And younger employees, who were like them only a short while ago, gives them something to aspire to."
"Cisco is now the number one choice of employer for our students; since 2015, ten have joined the Cisco Apprenticeship and Degree Apprenticeship programme."
The secret of success
In 2015, UTC Reading became the only school of its type to receive an outstanding Ofsted rating - a major achievement for any teaching institution, but a particularly notable accomplishment for a new type of education provider.
Meanwhile, a Baker Dearing Education Trust survey found UTC Reading students to be among the most career confident young people in the country.
Several factors have contributed to this success.
One of the only UTC principals with extensive teaching experience (and a STEM graduate herself), Joanne Harper combines educational knowledge with a business-focused approach, but as she explains:
"There is no magic formula, no ‘one size fits all’. What works well for one UTC might be unsuitable for the next. The key to success is working out the specific needs of students and local industries."
With a growing reputation overseas, colleges from Europe and the Middle East have visited Reading with a view to emulating its success, and the UTC aspires to be the best in its field, producing talented young people in the UK’s top 1%.
With only 13% of women in the UK opting for STEM careers, Reading UTC and Cisco’s Women in IT project is part of a drive to increase female student numbers from 19% at present, to 30% by 2020. Encouragingly, Cisco’s current apprentice intake includes female UTC Reading alumni.
The UTC is also creating a structured quality talent programme for 14-18 year olds, covering specific careers with Cisco and other industry partners, and devising CPD programmes with detailed modules and clear programme sets.
"Our purpose is to educate and train the next generation of technicians, engineers and industrial innovators and in doing so, improve life chances, and as an industry partner, Cisco’s input is setting the bar, delivering something for other businesses to perhaps aspire to," says Joanne Harper.
The Baker Dearing Education Trust agrees:
"Cisco’s work with UTC Reading is a great example of employer involvement that benefits students, teaching staff and Cisco employees. Seeing talented students from the UTC going on to roles within Cisco is clear evidence the UTC model delivers tangible returns for employers. It is this sort of exemplary work that sets UTCs apart from other schools, and what students and employers value."
Lord Baker, Chairman, Baker Dearing Education Trust
From left: Cisco's Guy Howell, with Joanne Harper and Michael Halliday of UTC Reading
UTC Reading UTC and Cisco’s Women in IT project aims to help increase female student numbers from 19% at present, to 30% by 2020.
From Cisco's perspective ...
... the relationship has benefitted both parties.
"The quality of Cisco’s products and services meant we could deliver a robust technical environment - but we wanted to offer something more," says Guy Howell.
"Now, as more UTC Reading alumni join our apprentice schemes, who knows? We could be recruiting the Cisco leaders of tomorrow."
“Our purpose is to educate and train the next generation of technicians, engineers and industrial innovators and in doing so, improve life chances. As an industry partner, Cisco’s input is setting the bar, delivering something for other businesses to perhaps aspire to.”
Joanne Harper, Executive Principal, UTC Reading
Opened: September 2013
Initial student intake – 140
Current student intake – 450
Cisco products and solutions: