University technical college students’ perceptions and experiences of studying engineering

University Technical Colleges (UTCs) aim to provide a technically-oriented curriculum for 14-19 year olds. Technical learning with state-of-the-art equipment is integrated with academic subjects such as English, maths and science to support pupils’ technical learning. The UTC curriculum aims to become highly regarded and to establish parity of esteem between technical and academic pathways of study. Focus group discussions took place in two UTCs in the Midlands area of England. Forty nine Year 10 pupils shared their experiences of studying the Engineering Diploma. Focus group discussions explored why pupils chose to study at a UTC, their perceptions and experiences of engineering and their plans for the future. Discussions also examined how the UTC learning environment is perceived by its students. Most of the UTC students reported feeling highly motivated. They described a culture where working hard most of the time is normal and suggest that a desire to learn is required to attend a UTC. Compared to their previous schools, they reported that it was easier to learn in smaller classes with fewer disruptive students. They enjoyed their Engineering lessons but would prefer more time in the workshop as they liked the “hands-on” element of the subject. Students reported more planning activities which enabled them to take more responsibility for their own learning. Some students reported that they had transferred the planning skills that they had learnt in Engineering to other subjects. The longer hours associated with attending a UTC meant that students frequently reported being unable to socialise with their friends. Many students felt that the UTC’s extra-curricular activities made the day seem unnecessarily long and they would prefer participation to be optional not compulsory. However, these compromises were judged to be worthwhile due to the benefits of attending a UTC. These included: being treated more like adults, the involvement of employers and access to state-of-the-art equipment. Overall, the UTC students reported high levels of motivation and self-regulated learning. However, it is not known if this is due to more able students self-selecting to attend UTCs. This is being explored further in a quantitative survey of learning and motivation in UTC and comprehensive school students. This study is part of a wider longitudinal programme of research into technical education.

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