East London Centre of Excellence has the Golden Ticket in Tech Education

Bringing tech and business together to grow digital skills in inspirational learning environments

It’s amazing what you can do with a piece of Lego* – just ask London Design and Engineering University Technical College* (LDE UTC). One of 50 digital flagship schools celebrated for its pioneering approach to education in this year’s EdTech 50 Awards, it boasts a cohort of ‘Double Distinction’ graded Year 13 students – and in just three years has earned a glowing reputation as a tech academy of excellence.

“The curriculum is all-encompassing. It’s all about solving real world problems and actual physical outputs that you can see”

But every student who walks through its doors starts from the same place, as Principal Geoffrey Fowler says: “Our students begin by building Lego and end up building the future for some of the world’s best companies.”

Based on the Dock-side next to the University of East London* with a city skyline to boot, 650 students and 80 staff take advantage of the high-spec facilities at LDE UTC, which opened in 2016. Part of a national programme of UTCs trying to redefine the approach to education, its innovative use of education technology and pioneering curriculum earned the college major plaudits at this year’s EdTech 50 schools event.

Supported by Intel, EdTech 50 schools is a celebration of the work going on in schools using education technology to support great teaching and learning across the UK and Northern Ireland. The ambition is to shine a light on this work to help share, develop and grow successful edtech strategies and innovations across the entire schools’ community.

Pioneering Education

As an EdTech 50 school, LDE UTC’s curriculum provides convincing insights for future schools’ successes. Driven by a specialised engineering and design focus, with top of the range resources to support, learning is structured around a thematic approach that taps into civil engineering and automation engineering disciplines. “The curriculum is all encompassing. It’s all about solving real world problems and actual physical outputs that you can see,” says Fowler.

Flipping the national curriculum on its head, LDE UTC uses real-life business briefs to bring learning to life for students. Working with companies such as Costain*, Thames Water*, Skanska* and the BBC*, the school motivates and empowers students to solve real world problems. So far, it has a 100 percent success rate, with 53 percent of students going to university and 47 percent embarking on apprenticeships with companies such as BA*, Rolls-Royce* or going straight into employment.

Businesses play a key role in supporting the curriculum via two separate routes: DCL and EPQ. The DCL path, thematic learning, means a business sets the project brief itself and teachers use this within their lessons. Meanwhile, the EPQ route is an extended project qualification, in which businesses supply team projects – like a recent Water Aid* project, for example.

Tour De Force

Seeing is believing and a tour to LDE UTC might leave you wishing your school days weren’t yet over. Pop into the Digital Media classroom and you may encounter Pepper the robot, who has been mastered by an earnest student specialising in deep learning. Pepper is voice-activated and can interact on demand, do the macarena and answer a whole host of questions. Across the room you may be compelled to jump in the driving seat with a VR motor racing game – with hand-crafted handset and pedals. This too has been entirely created by the students. To make these projects possible, they need reliable technology to provide the needed processing power. As a result, all the workstations in the Digital Media lab are powered by Intel® Xeon® processors – raising the bar in classroom computer capabilities.

Meanwhile, any no-phone policy is out of the door when it comes to playing with the AR game ‘Elements’ created and published by students. Hover over one of the cards with your phone and the periodic table comes to life with three dimensional floating elements. The AugmentifyIt* app is now in the top 100 apps for education. This is just one room.

Across the hallway and into another classroom you will find a series of humanoid robots sitting quietly on the windowsill, above the silhouette of an F1* racetrack taped to the floor. In another, we witness a looping set of warehouse machinery. “It’s Industry 4.0, before most of industry are using it,” the Principal exclaims. On the other side of the room, the fruits of a Thames Water brief, bringing to life the journey from reservoir to bottling plant with a miniature, fully functioning facility stands proud.

At LDE UTC, everyone is catered for – regardless of background or grades. A small group of fresh start learners are empowered with a state-of-the-art music studio, designed to build self-esteem and offer an outlet for creativity. From poetry to rap, confidence is grown in their own language in a safe and supportive environment.

Lessons for Life

This is all truly inspiring, but how is this approach to learning established and carried out – and what can other schools learn from it?

At LDE UTC, 80 percent of the governing body come from industry. When businesses and schools work together, students benefit with meaningful real-world lessons.

The outcome of this approach is a diverse range of pathways for students. One size does not fit all and so student pathways reflect this range. Options include a higher apprenticeship (level 3), university (level 3), an access to level 3 pathway (level 2) and a one-year pathway (level 2). Underpinning all routes are the essential life skills learned by all at LDE UTC.

As Principal Fowler says: “There really is a destination for everyone. When you leave here, you walk out with two golden tickets. One is the qualification itself and the other is the experience you gain from being here – that’s what equips you for interviews and the other challenges ahead.” 

Powering Future Education with Technology

The power of technology to transform education is palpable at LDE UTC and underscores the need for events like EdTech 50 to elevate and share in schools’ success – so others might follow suit. James Culley, Assistant Principal Director of Apprenticeships at LDE UTC, says: “Being recognised is exactly what we want because the students are doing fantastic work. We adopt an ‘always on’ approach and everything here is connected – we want people to embrace technology and the wonderful things it can achieve.”

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