The government should halt its expansion of the controversial university technical colleges programme and review the model, a former schools minister has said, after damning new research faulted their academic progress and ability to recruit and retain learners.
In a report that lays bare the major issues faced by the troubled 14 to 19 technical schools, the Education Policy Institute recommended that the age of admission to UTCs be raised to 16 to tackle high drop-out rates and low Ofsted grades.
David Laws, who was schools minister when the institutions began rolling out under both Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan between 2012 and 2015, is now executive chairman of the EPI. He called for a halt to the expansion of the UTC programme and a review.
The government should not fund further UTC expansion until a review is undertaken and steps are put in place to deliver a sustainable and effective programme
“The government should not fund further UTC expansion until a review is undertaken and steps are put in place to deliver a sustainable and effective programme,” he said.
However, Lord Baker, the former education secretary and head of the Baker Dearing Trust, an organisation set up to promote UTCs, disagrees. He said UTC’s should not be compared to a “normal” school and insisted many were in fact “oversubscribed”.
Since 2011, the Department for Education has allocated almost £330 million of capital spending to the UTC programme. In this time, 59 UTCs have been established, although eight of these have since closed and one converted to an academy. Another, UTC@Harbourside, will close in August 2019.
UTCs have struggled with falling student numbers. The Institute for Public Policy Research reported last year that 13 of the institutions failed to fill half or more of their Year 10 places in 2015-16, with 39 per cent of all Year 10 places at UTCs remaining vacant that year. In 2018, 20 open UTCs had fewer students than in the previous year.
The EPI found that because transition at age 14 is “not the norm”, there is “no evidence that participation in UTCs at age 14 is likely to rise significantly without more fundamental changes to the education system”.
It noted that over half of UTC pupils do not continue from key stage four into key stage five in the same institution, a
nd criticised the “overall poor performance” in academic qualifications at the institutions. Pupils at UTCs also leave with a whole grade lower in academic qualifications than those in other institutions.
Over half of UTCs inspected by Ofsted are rated ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’, compared to less than a quarter of all institutions. Four per cent are ‘outstanding’, compared to 22 per cent of all institutions.
Lord Baker said UTCs have a “challenging” intake, and “Baker Dearing is proud that UTCs transform their students’ life chances.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was “worth examining” changing the admissions age.
“But it might have been a lot easier at the outset simply to have provided additional funding and places in further education colleges which already run very successful technical education programmes,” he added.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We have a diverse education system and University Technical Colleges are an important part of that, with the best providers teaching people the skills and knowledge that will help them secure good jobs in specialist technical sectors.”