Manchester cloud and hosting provider UKFast is planning to launch a free school which will be strongly focused on bridging the skills gap, in association with its long-term partner The Dean Trust.
The school will be based in Manchester and will open within the next two years. It will be part of the government's initiative to build free schools - those which remain government funded but are outside the control of the local authority and are able to set their own educational agenda outside the national curriculum.
The Dean Trust, which has worked with UKFast for many years, already has a number of free schools under its belt, and aims to ensure they all achieve a Good or Outstanding rating in their Ofsted reports.
UKFast's CEO Lawrence Jones (pictured right, with The Dean Trust CEO Tarun Kapur and two of the Trust's pupils) explained how his firm is getting involved with the trust on its next school. When asked if the company will provide digital skills, rather than financial backing, he said:
"I think it will probably be more than [just digital skills] - we already provide a lot of financial backing to the Dean Trust. We never raise an invoice for the work we've carried out with that organisation. I can't imagine it would be a zero-sum relationship. We will be contributing significantly."
He reflected on his own background and how this has partly driven him to want to improve educational standards in the country.
"There is not just a skills gap in Britain, there is an education gap," he said. "I was privileged enough to go to private school; I got a scholarship because I could sing like an angel as a kid. I went to Durham Chorister School - the likes of Tony Blair and Rowan Atkinson went there - some high-profile characters. It gave me a taste of what real education was about.
"Once my voice had broken and I went back to Wales, my parents couldn't afford to keep me in a public school. So I left home at 16 and put myself through college in Salford. I went to a very good college in Salford, but I got four Us at A-Level.
"There is a huge gap between the two types of education. I want to try to give kids in the most dysfunctional areas of our cities the skills and passion they need to get the best out of life. It's those kids who will be the ones who are most passionate and driven and they will change the world."
The new school will be kitted out with the latest technology, and will have access to UKFast's datacentre and cloud services. On top of this, work experience placements will be provided as part of the ongoing relationship.
UKFast has worked with schools in the past prior to this announcement, and has its own in-house teachers running internal training programmes.
Jones said that the UKFast office was recently visited by a group of children who had been expelled from schools around the city, and it's them in particular he hopes to be able to help with the new school.
"All 15 of these kids have been expelled from various schools in Manchester and they're in special measures," he said. "I said they are all welcome and I had a chat and made sure they were enjoying themselves. They were wonderful kids. [Being labelled a] dysfunctional child doesn't mean they are a dysfunctional child, it means they don't enjoy the way they are being educated, so they are brighter and sharper.
"I was one of those dysfunctional kids and I turned out OK."
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