University Technical College in Newhaven becomes first school to offer scuba diving

Marine engineering lessons for 14 to 18-year-olds provide specialist skills to revive local industry

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The Independent Online

It is a new response to the age-old question: “What did you do at school today, darling?”

The answer: “scuba diving – it’s part of my marine engineering course,” might well be the reply if the child is enrolled at a new University Technical College (UTC) opening in Newhaven, East Sussex.

The college, one of 11 new UTCs welcoming students for the first time this week, is on the quayside in the port town, next door to the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry terminal.

It will be the first in the country to offer specialisms in marine engineering and environmental technology to its pupils, aged 14 to 18.

The courses are designed to prepare teenagers for the type of work on offer in the area. The new college is central to efforts to revive local industry, which has suffered from the downgrading of the ferry terminal since its heyday in the 1960s, when it was a main gateway for British tourists heading to Paris and the rest of Europe.

Paul Bevan, the college’s chair of governors, previously worked in public policy and economic development. “I’m not an educationalist, but what I’m bringing to this is [a focus] on what the college needs to provide to align it with the community and the economy it serves,” he told The Independent.

Every 14-year-old at the college will undergo intensive work experience, under a programme that will see them seconded for half a day a week to a local company.

“The challenge will be set by employers,” said Jonathan Clarke, the college principal. “The students will take an idea and work as a team to develop that idea. They will then make a presentation to the employer who will evaluate it.”

To return to the scuba diving, Mr Clarke points out it will be useful for pupils studying marine biology. The diving classes will be held at a centre near the college, while discussions are ongoing with the Royal Navy to provide further expertise and training.

Jennifer MacGregor, the head of science, left a job at the top independent girls’ school Roedean, on the outskirts of Brighton, to come and work at the college. She says the fundamental idea is to make it enjoyable for the students to learn science.  “I want it to be cool to do science,” she added.

The college’s first intake will be 110 students – 40 in year 12, the equivalent of the first year of the sixth form, and 70 14-year-olds.  It’s register will increase each September until it has 600 students in four years.

The intake will range from pupils seeking the skills to equip them for work and an apprenticeship, to those aiming to go on to university after taking science or technology A-levels.

For the students, choosing UTC@harbourside over any other local sixth form or further education college was an obvious choice. “It’s all new and the teachers will be enthusiastic,” said Sarah Hinton, 16, who wants to study equine veterinary science. “There’s so much you can do here that you can’t do elsewhere.”

Hannah Belhadj, whose  14-year-old son Ayman is starting at the college, added: “I went on to the internet to find out what schools were available in Sussex and it just came up. It had just been put down that day.

“It is more hands-on in  science, so it’s just the right kind of place for Ayman.”

UTC@harbourside is part of a drive that will see the number of UTCs increase by 11 to 37, including at sites in Bolton, Derby, Medway, Oxfordshire, Salford, Scunthorpe, South Devon, South Wiltshire and the West Midlands.

The colleges are the idea of former Education Secretary Lord Baker and the late Lord Dearing, who was a government education adviser for many years. The UTCs will complement 10 new Career Colleges which provide schooling for pupils as young as 14 in further education colleges.