This week Cirencester College Principal Jim Grant visits Holland to see their T-levels in action

Principal’s Blog from Holland

Tuesday 26 November 2019

Today we visited one of 12 specialist colleges just outside Utrecht, part of a super-college of some 18,000 students. This College focuses on technology, others focus on security, healthcare, automotive and business administration. Students learn in large, bright spaces using up-to-date equipment, much of it provided by local employers. Students either take an apprenticeship with 1 day in College or a college-based course with a 1 day a week internship. Both routes lead to the same qualification. Employers and staff work closely to make sure courses are relevant to the local economy. Employers invest in the College and young people to ensure that they have a supply of well-trained staff.

In the welding workshops all the materials were supplied by the company we were going to visit next. Another company supplied wooden parquet tiles so that the College could become a centre for parquet training. The College had just developed a course for apartment maintenance companies which combined aspects of carpentry, plumbing and decorating. These students were building and fitting out mini-houses.

We then went to Kiremko, a company that makes food processing equipment and spoke to welding apprentices and employees who had trained at the Technical College. Kiremko staff mentor apprenticeships and are supported by the College. Almost all the welders here had been trained by the College and were able to show how they had applied the skills they had been taught in the workshop. Here designers took orders for machines from all over the world and produced plans and patterns for manufacture. In the spotless workshop, sheets of stainless steel were cut with great precision by high pressure water or lasers to create the parts which were then assembled by the welders. One machine which had just been finished turned 15,000 kilos of potatoes into fries in 1 hour. Other machines produced the hash browns so beloved by our students. In the lobby the welders had created this statue to showcase their skills.

Holland appears to be well ahead of the UK in the way government, colleges and employers all work together collaboratively to ensure that students learn the technical skills which employers and the economy needs and that training is both up-to-date and of a very high standard.

Monday 25 November 2019

I’m travelling with a group of College Principals as guests of the Gatsby Foundation, an educational charity run by Lord Sainsbury which is very influential in researching and lobbying for technical education in England.  All of us are from Colleges who like Cirencester College are piloting T-levels, which gives us an opportunity to learn from the Dutch experience as we plan to launch a ‘once in a generation’ reform of technical education and the T-level launch at Cirencester College in September 2020.
Today we have been to the Dutch Ministry of Education, the Dutch Innovation Factory, a Technical School and the organisation that organises work placements and approves vocational qualifications for the whole country.
T-levels are being rolled out slowly by the Government because they want to get them right and create high standard technical qualifications which prepare young people for the higher technical and professional roles that the UK needs.
Highlight of today’s trip was a visit to the Dutch Innovation Factory. There are actually several of these, each with a different focus such as Health or Agriculture. This one on the outskirts of the Hague was a digital centre. Students from the Dutch equivalent of a Further Education College and a Technical University study here but it was also a place where 25 employers have their businesses.
The centre was also supported by local government. In an exciting model, students and employers came together to set and solve problems in hubs that focused on issues like cyber security, e-health, big data and experimental housing. For students this meant that they were studying and solving real world problems, they gained internships, apprenticeships and ultimately jobs. Employers gained solutions to problems and new ideas and were also able to recruit the best new talent.
The innovation Factory already has a range of apps and VR developments which entrepreneurial students had helped develop. Employers were so keen to work in the Factory (and it was in an old butter factory) that they paid 1.5 x the market rate to rent space but also agreed to provide education, internship or sponsorship as part of their contribution. This is exactly the kind of centre we hope to secure in Cirencester, linking up with the growth Hub across the road, when we launch digital T-levels in September 2020.
Jim Grant