There is a shift on the horizon for both the standard and choice of 14-18 education in Crewe. The town already boasts re-branded and rebuilt secondary schools. There’s a state-of-the-art Further Education establishment (South Cheshire College), plus a university campus (Manchester Metropolitan, Cheshire) for those wanting Higher Education instruction. The new learning kid on the block is a University Technical college (UTC). It is academia, just not as we know it…

So what exactly is a UTC? The concept is exciting. It’s a type of school, government funded but with commercial partners, non-selective, and focused on technical courses that combine National Curriculum requirements with vocational skills.

Forget dull classrooms with stuffy school masters. For UTC think dynamic mentors who empower and inspire, and back learning with hands-on experience. “When will I ever use trigonometry, sir?” will become a throw-away phrase consigned to schooling of old. Pupils will see real-time experiments with purpose, time-served stalwarts of industry delivering a fresh approach to education.

It all sounds great, especially when you read the prospectus and check out some of the video content HERE.

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The Crewe UTC is almost reality. Set to open its doors in September 2016, rather than straight-laced classroom schedules, a student’s timetable will be more akin to a day of employment. The work ethic will be instilled early. Learning will fun, focused and allow kids to apply theory courtesy of genuine industry scenarios recreated by teachers who have served time on tools, drawing boards and in laboratories.

So where is this UTC?

The Crewe project has been bubbling away for some time. Now the bricks and mortar are rolling up as the remnants of Victoria High School disappear. So, yes, it’s a town centre development, utilising brownfield real estate that has cried out for investment for many years. And yet there are issues that we should consider.

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Access, parking and the impact on both residents and local businesses must be addressed. It’s an already congested area, off the West Street artery for cars, and perhaps 25 minutes’ walk from the train station. It’s not ideal, especially for potential students from outside the town’s boundaries. With the new-build over six months away, you’d hope that the traffic planners are on the case.

On a student level, what about South Cheshire College? Now I had intended to merge a few quotes into this piece, feedback from those involved in both existing and planned establishments. That is perhaps more suited to a later article, when more facts and figures become available. But let’s be honest, there will be competition for students. Can both facilities maintain full registers?

The partners already lined up for UTC are big hitters. All locally based companies/organisations, but with global connections. Bentley Motors, Bosch, Leoni, Siemens, OSL Rail and General Electric to name but a handful.

Young students that join courses from September 2016 won’t fully appreciate it, but they will complete first-stage educations with a significant advantage over schoolmates from earlier years. There will still be much learning ahead for those young graduates, but at sixteen and eighteen years of age they will already be very employable.

Many of the partners listed above already have good relationships with SCC. Bentley Motors, for example, has around 80 apprentices based at the college. There will surely be a steady shift from one training location to the other – mainly from existing SCC to newly created UTC, if the hype is to be believed.

The movers and shakers, planners and think tanks must consider the next few years very carefully. Get the mix right, assist and facilitate transition, growth and change carefully, and Crewe will emerge with an enviable set of training pipelines.

Herein lies the potential for Crewe and South Cheshire. A steady stream of bespoke candidates, fully tutored, enthused, guided, equipped and qualified in all matters engineering, manufacturing and design. Innovators, specialists, craftsmen and leaders in the making. The future brought online early, when the UK economy needs it most – NOW!

In an earlier article (see Super-charging Crewe) I suggested that the area around Cheshire East will/should become a magnet for regeneration and growth on the back of HS2’s imminent multi-million-pound investment in the town’s railway hub. Some quite rightly scoffed, as slick connectivity alone will not attract the levels of Inward Investment enjoyed by Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and other key players in the north.

But couple the labyrinth of historic rail lines with a nearby M6 junction, the already solid engineering base and the blossoming Cheshire home of Manchester Metropolitan University, and then throw UTC into the mix and, well, Crewe is starting to look a very decent proposition. House prices are very affordable, too.

I always loved the 1989 USA film “Field Of Dreams”, where Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) optimistically built a baseball stadium in the Iowa countryside. And yet they (players, coaches, fans etc) did come. Whether that can be applied to Crewe and the wider South Cheshire and Warrington region remains to be seen. The building blocks are slowly dropping into place. Now it needs a team to actively promote and celebrate what the area has to offer. Tell them it’s nearly built!

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“Education, education, education…” (Tony Blair/Andrew Adonis) was always an admirable mantra, but without tangible work experience and credible business links the ink all-too-often fades on paper-thin qualifications. I like the UTC concept; it puts meats on the academic bones. The potential is huge. It must become part of the valuable mix of assets being assembled that I hope will drive our region forward.

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