FORMER Education Secretary Lord Baker was given a tour of the site of the new UTC building yesterday as students fill the quota for this year’s intake.
Lord Baker is the founder of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, which has spearheaded the university technical college programme as part of the free school programme and provided a £10m grant to UTC Swindon.
“I came here two years ago to talk about the whole concept of university technical colleges, and I am proud to be back,” he said.
“Everyone said at the time that this is exactly the sort of thing Swindon needs, and we can now see the hard work coming to fruition.”
The buildings at the old railway village were given over by Network Rail for the new college, and Lord Baker said he was struck by the heritage of the landscape.
“We are in the middle of history here,” he said.
“This college is not only about the past, it is also about the future, and the children will be proud to come here and see how great we were in our engineering days.”
The college will deliver practical education for 14 to 19 year olds, but Lord Baker said this would not affect academic studies.
“We think youngsters at 14 years of age know what they want to do,” he added. “We have found tremendous committment in those that are already open. Some students travel an hour to get to them, so the demand is certainly there.
“This is practical education, and for three days students will be doing things with their hands, and for the other three days they will be studying the academic subjects.
“Our target is when they come to leave none of them will be unemployed. That would be a tremendous record for any college. We are desperately short of engineers and technicians, so these colleges will be absolutely vital to our economy.
“At 14 they are also doing English, maths and foreign languages, but if they do not think it is the right choice for them they can switch when they reach the age of 16. We will provide that flexibility.
“I think we need many more of these colleges, and over the course of the next 10 or 15 years there will be scores of them.”
Angela Barker-Dench, principal of UTC Swindon, said: “This is a fantastic validation for the college. He is really interested in the fact it is being built on this site, bringing the engineering and heritage back to life.
“We are recruiting well and despite a bit of rain the fact we have had no snow or ice is supportive of the project being on time.
“We have got more than 150 students currently registered with an application to process for areas of interest. The closing date for applications is this Friday, and there was an open day held at County ground yesterday.
“We can still recruit after that date, but those people who have applied will be offered a place at the weekend.”