There are a number of alternatives to mainstream school: University Technical Colleges, specialist Academies and City Technical Schools.
If you know the area that you would like to work in aged 14, then a University Technical College (UTC) offers you the chance to experience and learn skills that are precisely for that job. UTCs sit somewhere between a school and the apprenticeship training program.
A new addition to the education system in the UK they were set up in 2010, by the Baker Dearing Trust, a private foundation. UTCs are FREE, regionally-based and with enrolment catchment areas that are generally wider than normal.
The intent of UTCs is to educate and equip children with skills that prepare them for a career. Learning can be applied directly to the workplace.A UTC curriculum is unique in that it is made up of the usual core academic curriculum plus technical study and practical learning. Each UTC devises its partnership with their governing university and local industries, and they will concentrate on teaching skills that are needed by local industries and in short supply. Sometimes these skills are also linked to the UTCs governing bodies specialisms. Students are therefore trained to be employable by businesses within their home area. UTCs are governed by over 50 local universities, hence the name University Technical College. Currently, there are over 35 UTCs open in England with a further 15 due to open by September 2017. With around 600 students aged between 14 and 19 years, they are smaller than other secondary schools. Being brand new there buildings will look attractive to students as they are able to offer contemporary design and state of the art technology and machinery.
Between the ages of 14 and 16, students spend 60% of their time learning core academic subjects and 40% of their time on technical skills.
Between 16 and 19 this reverses and students focus 60% of their time on technical learning and 40% is spent on academic studies.
As with an apprenticeship scheme, students spend time actually working in one of the UTC's partners industries where they can put into practice the technical skills they learn at school in the workplace.
UTCs are keen supporters of schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh or Young Enterprise scheme, encouraging their students to volunteer, challenge themselves and try new experiences. UTCs also have an award created especially for their students by a keen supporter of UTCs, The Duke of York. The award has three levels, and students are required to show they have learnt, have completed work experience and have those all-important soft skills.
Helping ensure students are also fit and healthy, many of the university sponsors have opened their sporting facilities to their UTC.
Further information and reviews by the Good Schools Guide on UTCs will shortly be available here.
UTC specialisms include
Working in the built environment
Other specialist schools
Academy schools are also often are created in partnership with local private schools or businesses and tend to specialise in a subject related to their sponsors' industry. Being closely aligned to their sponsor and its industry helps students with work experience and mentoring opportunities. The City of London Academy, for example, focuses on Business and Enterprise which is a perfect fit with their sponsor The City of London Corporation. Academies are state-funded (central government not the local authority) but governed independently. Academies are allowed greater flexibility than local authority schools and to a certain extent selective admissions as long as ability is not one of the selection criteria (Faith schools are the only schools that are allowed to give priority to children from their religion).
City Technical Schools are also state-funded and governed independently. Businesses sponsor a percentage of the cost of upkeep of a CTS. The curriculum is traditional, but they usually focus strongly on Maths, Science and Technology (three of the five STEAM subjects). Many CTS have now converted into academies.