The particular university technical college you mention (More technical colleges to be opened by 2014, 29 May) may be new, but the idea is not. It is little more than the “re-invention” of former junior technical schools. The 1937-38 prospectus for what was then Northampton College of Technology (now, in effect, the University of Northampton) boasts of having “a scheme of education … which enables an intelligent boy or girl of 13 to start … specialised training for an industrial, commercial or art career … in the junior technical college … [offering] an education which is definitely planned to prepare them for the particular vocations they propose to adopt … [and] a sound basis on which to build future progress”. While I don’t disparage “mere” technical learning, I cannot help thinking the new establishments will limit rather than enhance opportunities for those who attend them, by relentlessly concentrating on the “needs of industry”. Liberal learning and intellectualism should not be precluded for anyone.
Professor David Limond
School of education, Trinity College, Dublin
• Like the newly announced university technical colleges, my local UTC follows the standard pattern with about half its time given over to the “academic” subjects (standard GCSEs) and the other half to technical learning, including some practical work. This doesn’t mean that this half of its curriculum is any less mentally challenging, just that it’s classified as “vocational”.
Unfortunately, the secretary of state for education Michael Gove decreed back in January this year that “vocational” qualifications cannot be “worth” more than one GCSE. So although the overall curriculum is designed with industry and academia to meet the needs of both, the maximum GCSE “worth” of a UTC education is likely to be more limited than for a traditional school.
As a result, the UTC may be less attractive to pupils coming from non-technically aware families, or to pupils whose families judge their child’s “GCSE worth” to be greater than the UTC’s maximum. The sooner this anomaly is corrected, the better.