Central Technical School

Also on our itinary today was a visit to Central Technical School in the heart of Toronto.  As ever when I visit schools I am bowled over by the energy of the staff and students. Whether it is being handed the fanstic school art and literature magazine (Forge) or hearing about the way in which the school has built a relationship with Canadian author Robert Rotenberg as part of its literature programme, there was much to recommend Central Technical School.

From a UK perspective the school represents a kind of school that we don’t really have. It is 14-18 (although some students stay on until 21 for various reasons), comprehensive in ethos, vocationally orientated, but also able to offer conventional academic programming, and very big on work experience (in the form of co-operative education). In someways this is perhaps what Lord Baker is trying to create with the University Technical Colleges, however, in Canada this is well established rather than an experimental like the UTCs.

A number of things stood out for me. Firstly staff were keen to emphasise that vocational/technical education couldn’t be seen as a route for those who couldn’t hack the academic route. Many of the vocational courses required strong academic skiils. Secondly they pointed out that this was not a cut price education. Vocational education needs to be bang up to date and relies on expensive equipment to allow students to learn their skills. This was underlined by a visit to the huge automotive workshop where various vintages of cars were available for students to work on.

Another element that stood out for me was the strong attention that is given within the school to exposing students to a range of different opportunities and the careful thinking that has been done about how to give people second and third chances when their first ones don’t work out. Students have the opportunity to stay engaged with school for longer and to explore various options whilst they are there. All of this is also backed up by support from guidance counsellors who help students with course and career decision making as well as providing pastoral support.

I’m looking forward to seeing other Toronto schools over the next couple of days to see how typical or otherwise this schools is and to help me to think more about how the exciting practices that I’m seeing in Toronto might influence my thinking about the UK.

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