The man credited with creating City Technology Colleges in the 80s is back with a new vision – and Birmingham has been chosen to pilot the ambitious new model.
Lord Baker, who as Kenneth Baker was Conservative education secretary from 1986 to 1989, wants to mastermind a new academic revolution with a range of vocational colleges specialising in the skills most needed by industry.
And Birmingham is to be at the forefront of the revolution, after the now 74-year-old politician helped unveil the proposed Aston University Engineering Academy, Birmingham, during a visit to the city’s Aston Science Park last week.
The new engineering and manufacturing academy is set to cost £20 million and is earmarked to open in 2012 subject to the necessary approvals, starting with the council’s cabinet on December 15.
The purpose-built academy, home to 600 students aged 14 to 19, will be built on 1.18 acres of “prime city centre real estate”, according to council leader Coun Mike Whitby.
But Lord Baker’s vision goes further than that as he seeks to unveil a series of similar specialist academies covering everything from agriculture to IT.
He says: “Ron Dearing is well respected in the education world and a good friend of mine, and he and I have long held the belief that the right age of school transfer is 14 and the government has recognised this with its focus on 14-19.
“I started City Technology Colleges back in the 80s which are now the academies of today.
“I always wanted to do this but never had the time, so Ron and I decided to work on the idea of an engineering college.
“And when I approached Lord Adonis in the government I found it was an open door.”
Lord Baker said they chose Birmingham because of its “great industrial past” and had no problem selling the idea to the city council, followed by Aston University, whose vice-chancellor Prof Julia King is a qualified engineer, who will be sponsoring it.
“It is quite remarkable to get to this stage from Easter to Christmas for a project so revolutionary as this,” the Tory grandee added.
“This college is going to concentrate on engineering and manufacturing, but it will be the pioneer, the model, for others to come.
“This is vocational education writ large and we should have been doing it a century ago. We simply haven’t got enough technicians.”
Lord Baker said the government was a willing supporter of the project and he and Lord Dearing had been allocated help.
“A new college costs between £15 million-£20 million and this will be more expensive, but Birmingham giving us the land was critical to the project.”
Despite the current economic turmoil, the former home secretary and Conservative Party chairman insisted the timing was right.
“The public sector got us into recession so we need the private sector to get us out. To get out of recession you will need a whole range of skills that this academy can provide.”
Coun Whitby described it as an ‘exciting and dramatic day’ for Birmingham, adding: “This will be the first engineering and manufacturing academy of its kind in the UK, once again putting Birmingham on a national stage for world class education and leading the way in addressing the skills shortages endemic within Britain today.”
He said they needed to replace an ageing engineering and manufacturing workforce, with the West Midlands Learning and Skills Council reporting that 44 per cent were aged 45 or above.
Aston University pro-vice chancellor for learning and teaching innovation, Prof Alison Halstead, said a prospective list of academy partners included Rolls Royce, the National Grid and E.ON.