Plans are underway in Gloucestershire for a new specialist healthcare school that would pave the way for pupils to enter a nursing degree course in future.
Those behind the Gloucestershire University Technical College (UTC) project hope that it will be up and running by the start of the 2019 academic year.
“This is potentially an incredibly exciting educational development for the health sector in our county”
Set up under the government’s UTC programme, it would be aimed at 14-19 year olds and would offer a curriculum balancing academic and technical education.
Pupils would have access to the same national examinations as in mainstream secondary schools, such as GCSEs, but they would also study technical healthcare education.
They would also have the opportunity to gain work experience in the local healthcare sector, according to a website set up for the proposed college.
Many of the region’s major healthcare providers are involved in the project including Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group, Gloucestershire Care Services NHS Trust and 2gether NHS Foundation Trust.
The University of Gloucestershire is acting as a higher education sponsor for the UTC, which it is envisaged will have 600 students when full and take students from across the county.
Like many parts of the country, Gloucestershire is currently facing significant challenges in attracting and retaining nursing staff and needs an estimated 450 new nurses a year to meet demand.
According to the project’s website, the application for Gloucestershire UTC will be submitted to the Department of Education in early October 2016 and a decision on the outcome of the application is due in late 2016.
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If the application is successful, final approval to open is expected in early 2017 and the college will be open to students from September 2019.
Details are still being finalised but project website said no education requirements were proposed for pre-16 entry, though some courses may have minimum requirements for post-16 entry.
The UTC is expected to be located in central Gloucester, although an exact location is yet to be confirmed.
Gloucestershire Live recently reported that it is likely to be built on a derelict area of land opposite the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital.
The project also has the backing of Conservative MP for Gloucester Richard Graham. “There is a long way to go but this is potentially an incredibly exciting educational development for the health sector in our county,” he told the local newspaper.
Earlier this year the University of Gloucestershire also announced it was working with the county’s health service trusts to introduce a nursing degree programme from 2017.
The UTC programme is part of the government’s controversial academies scheme, under which free schools can be set up by local-interest groups with public funding but are outside of local authority control.
However, UTCs are distinct in that they must offer technically oriented courses and must have a university as a lead sponsor to help support curriculum development.
The UTC programme as a whole is sponsored by the Baker Dearing Trust, an educational trust set up by Conservative peer Lord Baker.
The first UCT opened its doors in 2010 and there are currently 39 around the country, specialising in a range of technical areas. Over 50 are expected to have opened by 2018.