City Technology Colleges & Academies

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Possibly many people do not perceive CTCs or Academies as being radically different to current schools in the UK. Conversely, for those involved, nothing could be further from the truth. When Margaret Thatcher announced the idea in 1986 few people realised the political furore this would cause within Local Authorities throughout England (UK Parliament 1988).

The Conservative government of the day was attempting to address the problem of failing education in deprived inner city areas and invited tenders for sponsorship from which 15 colleges became fully established. Each submission was different, the original capital outlay for renovation/refurbishment or development of an existing ‘brownfield site’ or new-build provided for any combination of ‘new starts’. Sponsors were equally different, some were big commercial names, some private benefactors and some just consortia of parents and teachers who thought that they could do something worthwhile (UK Parliament 1989; BBC News 2005a).

In 1996 there was a desperate concern amongst staff in CTCs that a new Labour government would cut much of the support for CTCs. This did not happen – rather, the new government appears to have stolen the Conservatives’ best clothes (BBC News 2005b)!

Putting theory into Practice

The first requirement was to address the needs of children in the lowest two quartiles within a given catchment area – 66% of each CTC’s intake was to come from this group.

The second requirement was that due consideration should be given to the use of technology in order to enhance children’s education and provide school leavers with the skills to meet the business, commercial and industrial needs of the 21st century.

In the early days CTCs started literally with blank sheets of paper – redefining views of teaching and learning styles, of resourcing, ancillary support, the working day, class sizes, mission statements etc, etc. Repeatedly they came up against traditional stereotypical formulae from the then Department for Education and Science. Classroom sizes were to be defined by the number of students only, with no recognition of the extra room needed for sets of computers in every classroom – and what about all the additional resources they wanted in each classroom? And what about display? Or the storage space required for the increasing number of coursework assignments? Above all, whilst freshly defining all these policies and strategies, they were constantly reflecting upon the wishes of local parents and teachers who had briefed the sponsors.



Clean, attractive and well-cared for premises; a longer working day; an open access policy; a wider range of courses; smaller class sizes; an intuitive use of ICT in all subject areas by all staff and students; high standards of discipline and polite friendly students are the norm.


League tables reveal startlingly high grades despite the demographics (see Links – League Tables); value-added scores are significantly higher; KS3 students follow an astounding number of additional ‘Enrichment’ activities (65 different options per year in one CTC); Parental attendance at key events are massively supported.

However, there is also evidence of less positive outcomes (eg Ford 2005; OfSTED 2005; Smithers 2005).

In Conclusion

When Kenneth Baker, visiting a CTC in 1991, asked, “Do you intend following the National Curriculum?” the prompt reply was simple, “No, Sir, we intend overtaking it!”

Many of the lessons learnt over the last 18 years have been tested within the ‘Technology Schools’ initiative and are now being applied to the new City Academies. OfSTED (the UK education inspectors) reports repeatedly identify one key feature of failing schools - the lack of real involvement by the school’s governors. Conversely, by putting up their money and their good names, sponsors and their appointed governors have a vested interest in seeing the City Academies succeed where less interested parties have allowed so many schools to fail.

Where teachers and parents, sponsors and LEAs can come together and offer the sorts of opportunities the CTC movement initiated, when students are encouraged to grasp the benefits of a longer working day, to imbibe the technological ethos and enjoy the richer learning experiences offered in the ‘bigger curriculum’ we can only stand back and wish that every school was this good.


BBC News (2005a) Parents 'backing' city academies, 15th June 2005. (Visited 5-July-05)

BBC News (2005b) Are city academies the answer? , 18th June 2005. (Visited 5-July-05)

Ford, Liz (2005) Ofsted fails academy school, Guardian, 27th May 2005.,14729,1494139,00.html (Visited 15-July-05)

Ofsted (2005) Inspection report: Unity City Academy, March 2005. (Visited 15-July-05)

Smithers, Rebecca (2005) Researchers raise more doubts on city academies, Guardian, 30th June 2005.,,1517961,00.html (Visited 15-July-05)

UK Parliament (1988) Hansard Column 268, 20th December 1988. (Visited 5-July-05)

UK Parliament (1989) Hansard Column 12, 4th April 1989. (Visited 5-July-05)

Useful links

An outline of the new schools by Margaret Beckett (Visited 5-July-05)

DfES – What are Academies? (Visited 5-July-05)

Innovation, the BECTA Report and Specialist Schools by Ian Lynch,_the_BECTA_Report_and_Specialist_Schools (Visited 5-July-05)

League Tables
Compare any CTC against LEA for Added Values & GCSE/AL scores (Visited 5-July-05)

The National Strategy KS3 (Visited 5-July-05)