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UTC Reading prepares students for tomorrow’s careers with digital solutions

In the current educational climate, students turn to university technical colleges (UTCs) because these schools focus on technical subjects and work-ready skills that help them learn about technology and norms that align with the workplace, rather than the classroom.  

According to Robert Bradley, Director of Computing at UTC Reading, “UTCs offer something different—specifically, the focused work with local, national, and international employers. The longer working day, the working environment, it's much more like work,” he explains. “Simple things, ethos, first-name terms, business dress, access to technology that a student might not get from the traditional secondary school they’re in, and the overarching focus on preparing these young people for the world of work, has an appeal not just to the students but to the parents as well.”

Jonathan Nicholls, Principal at UTC Reading, explains how the intense focus pays off for its students. “We see huge transformations in students in terms of confidence and ability. We attract students from a broad range of education and life experiences. Students join the UTC because they have an interest in the subjects that we specialize in and aspire to enter into lucrative careers when they finish at 18. Our vision is to “Transform lives through learning.” Every day we do just that through a variety of different experiences. Students receive a mix of traditional teaching in the classroom together with experiential opportunities that open their minds to the opportunities that the working world presents to them now and into the future. 

A key partnership

“Microsoft was one of the original partners in setting up Reading UTC,” explains Bradley. “It was quite natural for UTC to take on Microsoft as the platform of choice for the day-to-day running of classes, making use of OneDrive and the Office suite for assignments.  Alongside that, the choice was made again very early on in the development, that the school was going to offer professional qualifications and technical certificates as an extra to all of the students.”  Given that emphasis on Office and Microsoft solutions, Teams was a natural addition.  Bradley continues: “With the coming along of Teams, it’s made a natural transition, more and more, into the classroom.”

Exploring projects with Teams

Teams provides an ideal space for the project-based learning and workplace skills that UTC Reading’s students require. They had heavily adopted OneNote about four years ago, creating the sense, as Bradley puts it, “that we were at the forefront of collaborative work and technology.”  When this technology evolved and developed into Teams, with OneNote embedded within it, it was a natural fit.  Bradley explains: “What Microsoft products allows us to do well is built on the knowledge that our teachers have, so that we can help train staff, rather than having to send them on a specific training course that comes with additional cost.”

Jax Snipp, Assistant Principal and Computer Science Instructor at UTC Reading, has deployed Teams in her classroom as a daily collaboration tool, using it to channel assignments and distribute course materials.  “We set them to work on the assignments. They will then do that work, and then upload the work within Teams for feedback,” she explains. “They like the idea of Teams. They like the fact that if their teacher is sick, their work is already on Teams. They've got access to all the files, the PowerPoints and classwork, and a message from the teacher telling them what to do. That includes assignments that have been set as well.”

Snipp’s model has influenced other educators. “When I really took off, using Teams, was actually when I saw Jax wasn't just using the assignment section for long-term assignments, but as a day-to-day pedagogical tool for teaching,” notes Bradley. “So, she was showing assignments, creating new assignments, and allowing students to hand in work for every lesson—leveraging it as a tool for keeping track of who's doing the work, and providing feedback quickly back to students.”

This solution has benefits for teachers and students alike: From a teacher's point of view, it quickly shows who's handed in the work, and to what standard it's been handed in.  From the student's point of view, they know as quickly that the teacher knows that they haven't done the work “So,” Bradley notes, “I’ve started using it more regularly, using the quiz section, just so that I can keep a handle on my day-to-day teaching.”

Bridging the gap from school to work

For a UTC, these benefits and structure are vitally important. More than half of UTC Reading students will follow progress from year 13 into University through the traditional route whereas, the other half will secure high-profile employment or degree apprenticeships, with a range of employers from SMEs to global organizations, 

All of this adds up to a more engaged student body, with more feedback, more interaction, and more optimally managed learning environments. In the near future, UTC Reading will expand its use of OneNote and Teams, allowing students to present portfolios and interact with potential employers. 

In 2018, the United Kingdom adopted key standards for guiding schools in their efforts to build career opportunities and pathways to employment. The standards, developed by the Gatsby Foundation in London, highlighted eight key benchmarks, and offered specific recommendations about how schools could pursue those objectives. By the time the Gatsby benchmarks were adopted, UTC Reading was, according to Nicolls, one of “the first schools in the country to hit the benchmarks. The benchmarks are quite specific, and we hit those more than two years ago.”  

The UTC Reading team is constantly working toward these benchmarks.  “Every single year, you've got to rethink how you're going to establish the norms, for something constantly changing,” concludes Nicolls. “It makes it really exciting.”

Source, Microsoft, March 2020:

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