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UCL to be a "key player" in developing Elutec curriculum
11 July 2013
Ruth Umerah, Principal of the UCL-sponsored university technical college Elutec, explains why the new school will be unique and discusses how she envisages UCL being involved.
Images produced by architecture firm Scott Brownrigg
What is your background?
I have been teaching for 20 years. I started my career teaching business studies in Wolverhampton and Walsall, and then I moved to Staffordshire and took up a Head of Department job at Alleyne’s High School in Stone. At Alleyne’s I was eventually promoted to Assistant Headteacher and was responsible for the school’s curriculum and its specialism in technology. I was appointed as Vice Principal at The JCB Academy, the first university technical college (UTC), in September 2009 and spent a year helping the principal set up ready for opening in September 2010.
Prior to teaching I worked for Essex County Council in Chelmsford as a trainee accountant. I also worked for Cheshire County Council in Chester for four years between school and university.
What is your vision for Elutec and what is the ethos of the school?
My vision for Elutec is to give students the best possible start in their careers by providing them with a first-class technical and academic education. Elutec’s ethos will be based around providing young people with the employability skills that are essential for success in work. This means that standards of conduct will be high because Elutec students will understand expectations in relation to the workplace. Students will strive to do their very best in their work, presentation and behaviour and this will be achieved by embedding a mutual respect between students and staff.
How do you see Elutec being different from other schools?
The school day will be longer; students will attend from 8.30am until 5pm three days a week and until 4pm two days a week. This will help to prepare them for the length of the working day. Students will also interact with Elutec’s industrial partners regularly and this will give them the opportunity to learn how to communicate in a professional manner as well as developing commercial awareness by understanding the wider environment in which organisations operate. All students will have a work placement each year. For some students it is hoped that the work placement will lead to offers of apprenticeship or sponsorship through university.
The curriculum at Elutec will also be delivered in an unconventional way. The core curriculum will be integrated into the students’ engineering projects. This means that every lesson that students attend will be linked to the engineering project they are completing.
In essence Elutec graduates will stand out because, as well as achieving their full potential academically, they will have developed core employability skills such as the ability to solve problems, lead and support in teams and communicate confidently along with the technical skills that will fill many of the gaps identified by industry.
What challenges lie ahead before opening in September 2014?
The recruitment of students and staff will obviously be a priority. We have planned a number of marketing events where potential students and their parents can learn about our vision and values and make informed decisions about whether Elutec is the right place for them. Designing the curriculum in collaboration with our partners is also an important task and one that I am really looking forward to. Of course there is the new build which will have to be equipped and furnished; the plans look very exciting. The facilities within Elutec will really appeal to potential students as well as the fact that it will be located on the same site as the Centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence (CEME), which will help to create a real work-based environment and encourage our students to conduct themselves maturely. The less interesting tasks will be writing the policies and setting up administrative systems but fortunately, having been through this process before, I can utilise my experience and tried-and-tested models.
How do you feel about moving to a new city?
I love London and already spend as much time as possible down here. My husband has been working in Central London for a year and my eldest son has settled in South London. We have many friends and family located in the London area so I am really looking forward to being closer to them as well as being able to take advantage of all that the city has to offer.
How do you see UCL being involved in the UTC?
I am keen to work with UCL in developing teaching and learning. I think it is important for different sectors of education to learn from each other and, as many Elutec students will progress to higher education, I believe that it is important that the transition is as smooth as possible. I have been interested in the flipped classroom model that has been adopted for the delivery of some UCL lectures. This would lend itself to our curriculum model and help to develop independent learning in our students.
In my experience low aspirations are one of the biggest barriers to academic success for young people. It is crucial that they understand that university is a real option for them and UCL’s involvement will help to remove this barrier. I would be interested in recruiting some undergraduate mentors to work with key students as well as arranging visits to the university and possibly a residential for potential applicants at the end of Year 12.
I also see UCL as a key player in developing the curriculum. In addition to the smooth transition that I mentioned above, it is also crucial that we learn from UCL where the academic gaps lie when undergraduates start degrees in STEM subjects.
Our partnership with UCL helps to create the credibility that we need to promote, particularly in the early years when we are still developing our own reputation.
What qualifications will Elutec offer?
All students will study engineering. In Years 10 and 11 students’ projects will be underpinned by the Cambridge Nationals in engineering design, manufacture, practical electrics and mechanics, electronics and control systems. These qualifications will be worth four GCSEs. In addition, students will study GCSEs in maths, physics, biology, chemistry, English, product design, ICT and business. All students will follow a course in modern foreign languages and some will study for GCSE German.
In the sixth form Level 3 students will study up to four A-levels (or equivalent) in engineering, sciences, maths, ICT or product design. We will also offer courses for students at Level 2 who might need an additional year before they are ready to move on to Level 3. The final offer for the sixth form will depend on the specialisms of our staff and the needs of our applicants.
What excites you most about Elutec?
Elutec will be transformational for our students. It will improve their life chances and offer them a unique, project-based curriculum that will enable them to understand the relevance of everything they are learning. I am excited about the challenge and am looking forward to recruiting the students and staff and also building really powerful partnerships with the organisations that are working with us and share our vision.
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