The Department for Education has begun to intervene in schools which fail in their legal duty to allow training organisations the chance to speak to pupils about technical qualifications and apprenticeships.
Lord Kenneth Baker (pictured), the former education secretary behind the so-called “Baker Clause” obliging schools to introduce pupils to technical education, told Schools Week that officials have visited headteachers who are flouting the law – and that ministers are prepared to “instruct” schools to comply.
The Baker Clause was introduced as an amendment to the Technical and Further Education Act, which came into effect at the beginning of this year. It means every school must give training providers and colleges access to every pupil in years 8 to 13, so they can find out about non-academic routes.
Baker wrote to ministers in January to complain after a Schools Week investigation found most of England’s largest academy trusts had failed to comply with the duty. The government appears to have listened.
According to Baker, a “senior DfE official” has just travelled to Cumbria to have face-to-face showdowns with headteachers who are not letting the Energy Coast University Technical College in to speak with pupils. He expects more interventions.
Some schools postpone and are awkward, which is outrageous
“Some schools postpone and are awkward, which is outrageous,” he said, adding that DfE minister Lord Agnew is “prepared to instruct them to comply”.
Baker also said it would be a “very good idea” to have Ofsted inspectors “condemn” non-compliant schools in their inspection reports.
He rejects recent criticism of his flagship UTCs programme from Michael Gove and George Osborne, the former education secretary and chancellor. Both politicians have been invited to visit one of the institutions.
Both men have recently questioned whether the model works in its current form. Many have struggled to recruit pupils at 14; eight have so far closed and others have ditched the UTC brand. Just this week, Schools Week reported how Harlow-based Sir Charles Kao UTC has changed its name to the BMAT STEM Academy and joined the Burnt Mill Academy Trust.
Many UTCs have also fared badly in Ofsted inspections. One fifth that have been inspected so far are rated ‘inadequate’. But Baker says Ofsted’s inspection regime is unfair on the institutions.
“Ofsted takes no account of employability in inspections and that is a big test for us,” he says.
He hopes that the watchdog’s new common inspection framework, expected in 18 months’ time, will go some way to taking into account “the special nature of our offer”.
Baker confesses that he knew starting the UTC movement was a “high-risk strategy”, but claims it was worth taking. Not one of the pupils affected by UTC closures has become NEET – a term for young people not in education, employment or training.
But Baker also claims that UTCs are on the up. Recruitment across the board rose by 20 per cent last year, he claims, though that data is yet to be released.
“Our destination data is incredible,” he added. “Last year we had 2,000 leavers and only 23 NEETs.” He puts this recent recruitment “success” down to the obligations on councils and schools to tell pupils about other options for study post-14.
Baker also welcomes the move by some UTCs to recruit pupils a year earlier, at the age of 13, prompted by a move by some schools to start preparing pupils for GCSEs in year 9. He says if that system is extended, UTCs will follow suit.
“We would absolutely be happy to change to starting at 13 instead of 14.”