Express & Star

Innovation is name of game at West Midlands Construction UTC

‘I never thought I’d be sat next to a robot at school, but then this isn’t an ordinary school’.

Last updated
Principal Av Gill with Clarke the robot

Av Gill is only two weeks into his new headship at Wolverhampton’s new West Midlands Construction UTC, based at the former Springfield Brewery site in Wolverhampton.

The school building was only completed in November last year, and opened for students this month.

Already 240 youngsters have signed up to the school which offers industry-standard qualifications and experience in a range of technology-driven subjects.

Eventually, around 600 students aged 14 to 19 will study at the site, completing courses in architecture, design and ICT to name but a few.

Students in the design area.

Students get the chance to get their hands on the latest technologies, including robot Clarke, named after famous TV architect, George Clarke.

Nano-robot Clarke responds to voices, movement and other sounds and is part of the students’ study of electrics and robotics.

The difference from an average secondary school is marked for Mr Gill, who was inspired to take on the job after his own experiences in school.

Mr Gill said: “I think what hit me throughout my time at school and university is how there was a gap between what was deemed traditional academic subjects and more industry-based qualifications.

“But here, the courses that students embark on are challenging, innovative and to industry-standard. In fact, every student who walks through our doors will have a direct link to industry by working with businesses throughout their time at school. This means, ultimately, that we are preparing youngsters for the world of work but also giving them the grounding, resilience and confidence to look towards their future careers.

“As well as this, of course, they will have access to the normal school curriculum.”

The architecture design room.

Father-of-three Mr Gill, who lives in Penn, is the former deputy head of Sandwell Academy.

He said: “When I was looking for a new post, I wanted something that was a bit unusual, not your traditional headship.

“Here, students are not just occasionally wearing hard hats and getting to grips with construction, it’s so much more than that.

“I think particularly in a post-Brexit Britain it’s important that youngsters get the chance to get their foot in the door in industries that will potentially help to make up for the skills shortage that might come about when we leave the EU.”

Classrooms at the school are packed full of top-of-the-range equipment, from 3D printers to laser cutters, and special 3D routers.

Current projects the students are working on include a so-called full-sized ‘Wiki-house’ which will be incorporated with SMART technologies.

“This means things like locks controlled by your phone, plugs that control your lights and can be synced to your phone or can be controlled through your voice, as well as intelligent ovens that can sense what they’re cooking and self-watering plant pots.”

The reception area.

Students can also study building information modelling (BIM), which creates digital models of buildings.

Mr Gill continued: “I think people may have a limited view of the type of subjects that can be studied in this industry.

"It’s about architecture as well as construction, new ways of creating and building places and making them the best they can be.

“These are the skills of the future and ones that employers are desperate for. That’s the difference here.

“There’s no worry about leaving here and not getting into employment or further study – we have really close links with the University of Wolverhampton and many businesses.

"I think what we offer here is something that bridges the gap between not only vocational and academic subjects but provides real opportunity for careers in industry as architects, surveyors, engineers, interior designers, photographers, to name but a few.

“People walk in here, like I did, and think ‘wow, I wish I could come here’, and what we want to say to people is that it really is easier than you think to join us and start your career.”

The headteacher offers special Monday Meet the Principal sessions for potential new students and parents to meet with him to discuss their needs.

Mr Gill said: “These are open to anyone interested in finding out more about what we offer here.

“I can spend an hour with new students and parents, showing them the facilities, going through the different courses.”

The site was formerly Springfield Brewery before it was left empty for 20 years.

The university of Wolverhampton completed the deal to buy the 12-acre site in 2015, after revealing £70 million plans to transform it into the state-of-the-art construction and skills campus and business park, which the university is sponsoring along with the Construction Industry Training Board.

Mr Gill said: “I think the Springfield site is often remembered for being an important part of Wolverhampton’s history and heritage.

“Now, We hope it’ll be a major part of the city’s future.”

For more information on the site and the courses on offer, visit www.westmidland or call 01902 872180.