Project based learning and employer engagement in UTCs offer guidance to schools and colleges

News Release

Tuesday 19 February 2019

The second phase of a two-year study to understand effective practice and lessons learned from approaches to curriculum design and employer engagement by University Technical Colleges (UTCs) has been published today.

The Royal Academy of Engineering and the Edge Foundation commissioned NFER to evaluate the project-based learning (PBL) and employer-informed curriculum development and delivery aspects of UTCs in two phases.

The overall aim of the study was to understand effective practice and lessons that can be learned from the approaches currently being adopted including those areas that have been less successful in order to inform future sector-wide practice.

In phase 1 (2017) we carried out ten UTC case studies. In phase 2 (2018), titled Evaluation of University Technical Colleges report, we re-visited three UTCs demonstrating profound employer engagement in PBL. UTCs in Liverpool, Reading and Aston were examined in depth to explore the benefits of embedding these concepts in the curriculum and gaining strong and committed employer engagement over a sustained time period.

Project-based learning is a key focus for UTCs and demonstrates a different way of learning, often via industry-relevant projects developed in collaboration with local employers, ensuring that students develop skills that can help them access pathways into employment.

The report draws on these case studies to highlight ways in which schools and other institutions might use PBL to strengthen employer engagement and prepare students for employment. These include:

  1. Actively contacting businesses, asking how the school can support and help them become involved in curriculum design and delivery, thereby supporting employers’ recruitment needs in the future;
  2. Demonstrating to teachers the benefits of employer input into PBL and ensure teachers have the tools, skills and resources to work with employers.
  3. Demonstrating how employers can play an integral part in developing and delivering PBL and, at the same time, reap rewards for their business;
  4. Flexibility around timetabling so students can access a full day of PBL rather than sessions being spread across the week;
  5. Employing key staff with industry backgrounds and connections to enhance relationships between business and schools;
  6. Involving employers early on in any project and support them so that they know exactly what their contribution will be and when and reassure them that the school will do as much as possible to facilitate their contribution;
  7. Ensuring students have a full understanding of PBL and how it enables them to gain skills and knowledge that may help them ‘stand out’ in the future.

Commenting on the report, David Sims a Research Director at NFER said: “Evidence gathered in this second phase of research endorses and provides further detail to our original findings, that these UTCs have developed ways to invigorate learning resulting in students seeing it as relevant to their future lives. The report offers practical advice to UTCs and other institutions interested in augmenting their curriculum with employer-informed project-based learning’.