Physicist and television presenter Brian Cox inspired the next generation of scientists as he officially opened UTC Oxfordshire on 26 January.
The presenter of BBC’s Stargazing Live worked with pupils in the school’s science laboratories before addressing an audience of around 200 guests.
The school, which opened in Didcot in September, prepares young people for careers in science and engineering through a specialist curriculum delivered in partnership with employers.
The school’s lead sponsor is Activate Learning and its industry partners include the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), MINI Plant Oxford and RM Education.
A team from STFC had begun the day by launching a student challenge to build and launch their own satellite. Brian visited groups working on the challenge before continuing the space theme with a talk on ‘exploring the universe’.
Owain Johns, principal of UTC Oxfordshire, said: “Our school exists to create unique opportunities for young people to gain unbeatable experience and professional qualifications, so that they can access careers in science and engineering.
“We have had an incredible first term, with our pioneer students making use of our industry standard facilities and the expertise of our teachers and employer partners to develop their skills and knowledge.
“This official opening event was designed to recognise the huge amount of effort put in by so many people to get the school up and running. Ultimately however it was about inspiring our young people to continue to make the most of this unique learning experience. What better person to do that than Professor Brian Cox, who showed a real interest in the work of our students.”
Having toured the school and met with staff and students, Professor Cox said: “The facilities on offer here, coupled with the level of experiments the students are completing, make this school unique.
“Given the importance of science and engineering to our economy, and the potential skills shortage in these areas, the idea of a school like this is obvious and yet it takes someone to actually do it. That is the genius of the place, that someone has got the concept up and running and that they are delivering the curriculum in partnership with organisations such as the Science and Technology Facilities Council.
“Our country is the best in the world when it comes to the efficiency of our science research and we need more young people with the skills to sustain this position. Schools like this can help by opening up access between students and industry.”
Sixth form student Caitlin Shaw, aged 18, said: “I was attracted to UTC Oxfordshire because of its specialisms and because of the style of teaching. Almost every week we get access to external speakers from industry, and it is an amazing opportunity to hear from Brian Cox today.”
UTC Oxfordshire caters for pupils in Years 10 to 12 with a passion for science and engineering. The school’s specialist facilities include cryogenics and microscopy laboratories, a laser room and electrical and mechanical engineering workshops for robotics and rapid prototyping.
Around 150 students joined the school in its first year with applications now open for September 2016.