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WESTMINSTER PEOPLE: Karen Barker, principal at new Pimlico technical college

Headteacher's pledge: 'I will work to make the Sir Simon Milton Westminster UTC the sort of school I would have fought to get my daughters into'

10 March, 2017 — By Alina Polianskaya

Karen Barker predicts a need for one million more engineers and technicians in the next five years

THIS September, a new technical college opens its doors in Pimlico and leading the way as the new principal will be Karen Barker.

“Sir Simon Milton Westminster UTC will be unique,” she says. “There is a large and growing skills gap in industries needing technical knowledge and understanding, which will only widen once the effects of Brexit are felt. The Royal Academy of Engineering estimates that there will be a need for one million more engineers and technicians in the next five years. Our students will be able to go on to help plug this skills gap, while benefit­ing from being qualified in in-demand subjects.”

Originally from Lytham St Anne’s in Lancashire, Karen’s own journey started at the University of Manchester where she studied physics and worked as a student engineer in the holidays.

“Engineering is a way of using science and technol­ogy to solve problems and this always interested me,” she says.

After graduating she went on to write about major engineering projects for international trade magazines and for the past 20 years she has worked as a teacher in a variety state secondary schools.

Karen explains why she is so passionate about her job: “It is a real privilege to work with young people. They have a questioning attitude and a burning desire to go on and change things for the better. To be able to support them towards a fulfilling career and help embed what I hope will be a life-long desire to question and learn and come up with ideas to make the world a better place.”

As a parent herself she is particularly keen to make the new college a desirable destination. “I have two daughters and I know the agonising a parent goes through in choosing a school and then a sixth form,” she says. “I will work to make the Sir Simon Milton Westminster UTC the sort of school I would have fought to get my daughters into.”

Open to 14- to 19-year-olds, the college will offer academic and technical skills in equal measure. The school will work alongside a number of industry professionals, Karen says, including Network Rail, Land Securities, Sir Robert McAlpine, BT Fleet, Alstom and Transport for London.

“Students will benefit from these relationships as they will have unrivalled access to working with the companies on real live challenges, facing London’s transport infrastructure and building programmes,” she adds. “Students will be able to see the point of the subjects that they study, motivating them to achieve even higher exam results.”

The school is also linked to the Sir Simon Milton Foundation, which Karen says will “open many doors”.

“The college is named in honour of Sir Simon Milton who was leader of West­minster City Council and Deputy Mayor of London. He held a passionate belief in a caring city that offers opportunities for all. The foundation set up in his memory is providing support for the UTC,” Karen adds. “Our students will enjoy the sort of connections that are usually only found at top private schools.”

It also has links to the University of Westminster, with student mentors lending a hand and access to the university’s science and technology and architecture faculties. Students will carry out “considerable work experience in technological settings”, Karen says, which will give them a leg up when applying for jobs, apprenticeships or university.

She adds: “The location of the UTC on Sutherland Street in Pimlico continues the tradition of technical education on the site, as the building replaces the old Westminster Adult Education Service building. The date stones from the original 1898 building have been incorporated into the design of the new building.”

Outside of work, Karen has another interesting project on the go. “I am slowly renovating a 100-year-old derelict farmhouse in Asturias, northern Spain,” she says. “Teaching myself carpentry, with help from kind neighbours when they see me struggling with something or using the wrong tool, I have rebuilt and reglazed all the wooden windows and shutters, patched up holes in the floors and am setting up my own ‘off-grid’ electricity generation”

She adds: “Things don’t always work out first time, but I certainly learn from my mistakes! Learning all the building terms in the local dialect that my neighbours speak, is also great fun.”

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