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Aspects meets Lee Kilgour, the new Aston Engineering Academy Principal Designate

Lee Kilgour

Last year, funding was secured to build a new £17m centre for learning in Birmingham. The Aston University Engineering Academy, which is sponsored by the University, will be the first university-led technology college (UTC) in the country and it is being created in partnership with Birmingham City Council. When completed, it will cater for 600 pupils aged between 14 and 19 years old and will play a crucial role in delivering knowledge and skills through the specialisms of engineering and science. At the end of last year, Lee Kilgour was appointed as Principal Designate of the Aston University Engineering Academy. Aspects met Lee to find out more about the man himself and his hopes for the Academy.

Lee’s background demonstrates that you do not necessarily have to follow traditional education routes in order to become successful - it is this ethos that underpins the Engineering Academy. Lee started his career as an aircraft engineer in the Royal Air Force (RAF). By the time he left the RAF he had become an instructor at the Apprenticeship Training School. It was this passion for knowledge sharing which led Lee to study for a teaching degree (with a design and technology specialism) at Huddersfield University at the age of 30. He took his first job as a NQT at a school in Bolton and what followed was a string of promotions in quick succession (he was promoted to head of department, moved to Stockport as a curriculum leader, promoted to head of faculty after just three months and just two years later he joined the senior leadership team).

Lee told me that after this role he was employed by three schools in Middleton (near Rochdale) to head up their 14 to 19 work. The three schools wanted to work together to develop vocational and applied learning courses. He set up a construction centre and was instrumental in the creation of a new £6.5m sixth form centre - Middleton 6th Form Partnership. The group became one of the first consortiums to deliver diplomas nationally. After three years, Lee was promoted once more and became Deputy Head. It was his Head who encouraged him to apply for headships and at this point, he saw the job advertisement for the Aston University Engineering Academy Principal. 

The role is “the job of a lifetime”, he said. “To be able to create a school, its staff, its student body and the values that underpin it, is simply the most amazing opportunity.  

“I am passionate about engineering and the opportunities that engineering offers, for the country and its economic well-being, but also for using engineering as a learning tool. Rather than learning about maths in a sterile way, it’s exciting for students to be able to learn about maths and how it can be used to design building structures. Learning is much more fun this way.”

Lee’s varied career history means that he believes he is well placed to talk about raising aspirations.

“This academy is not just for high achievers, it is for all students who feel they can be successful through engineering. This is about providing students with the opportunities to raise their aspirations in order to get to the highest level in engineering they possibly can. This could be through a very academic and applied engineering route leading to studying engineering at university, but equally it could be via a more practical and hands on route which could lead to an apprenticeship and the world of work.”

Academy students will specialise in engineering and science alongside core GCSE subjects (approximately a 40/60 split). When students reach Year 12, they will spend 60% of their time specialising in engineering and science. The Aston University Engineering Academy will develop strong links with local and national industry to ensure its curriculum is employer led, with real life challenges as part of the courses. When students go on work experience placements, the experience will link directly to classroom work. “The Academy’s employer engagement is not just about apprenticeships, it will permeate all aspects of the curriculum”, Lee said.

Aston University is the main sponsor and in addition to the obvious benefits of teaching staff expertise and the use of facilities, there are massive advantages for Aston students to work with Academy students to offer mentoring, information, advice and guidance. The University will also be heavily involved with curriculum development. Lee tells me that the Academy will be creating its own suite of qualifications with the help of University staff. “We want to offer a technical baccalaureate which we hope will be rolled out across the UK.”

The Academy will work closely with further education colleges including Birmingham Metropolitan College and secondary schools across Birmingham to create clear progression routes to further and higher education or directly into industry. Lee says that he will be “forging strong partnerships with all 76 Birmingham schools to ensure that the right information, advice and guidance is available to parents and students. The Academy will be non-selective and wants to encourage more girls into engineering. It is about the personalisation of learning, making sure that all students, whatever their ability, are given appropriate choices and know that there are many paths to success.”

Prof Alison Halstead, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching Innovation commented: “I’m delighted that Lee is at the head of this exciting project. The Academy is going to play a key role in addressing the region’s skills gap and ensuring that together we can foster a passion and enthusiasm for engineering that will enable us to produce a new generation of innovate and talented students.”

So what is Lee looking forward to most? The Academy opening in September 2012 of course! “I can’t wait to be able to welcome the students and staff to the Academy and create a vibrant school community which strives for excellence in everything it does. I want the Academy to become the best university technical college in the country.”

To find out more, contact Lee Kilgour on ext 4643 or email at lee.kilgour@aston.ac.uk.  

Words by Louise Russell

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