Michael Gove, the former education secretary and a key architect of the government’s fast-unravelling university technical colleges (UTCs) programme has admitted the experiment has failed.
The politician, now on the back benches following an ill-fated run for the Conservative Party leadership last year, said a “lack of academic rigour” was to blame for the downfall of the institutions after Greater Manchester UTC became the seventh to announce closure as a result of poor recruitment.
The brainchild of another ex-education secretary Lord Baker, UTCs were pushed by Gove and his team in the early years of the coalition government as a key spoke of reform to technical education, but they have been fraught with problems in recent years.
What matters is high quality courses, not shiny new buildings
Gove said UTCs were the “biggest institutional innovation in vocational education” made by David Cameron’s government.
“Technical schools that recruited students at 14 and educated them until 19, each was meant to have a specialism, such as engineering… and a mission to inspire students who didn’t want to follow an academic path,” he said.
But he admitted that twice as many UTCs were now inadequate as outstanding, and pupils at the institutions “have lower GCSE scores, make less progress academically and acquire fewer qualifications than their contemporaries in comprehensives”.
He also warned that other schools had seen them as “destinations for underperforming children”.
As reported by Schools Week on Tuesday, low student numbers have forced Greater Manchester UTC to close. It will shut its doors in August.
That news came just two months after Daventry UTC announced that it too would close at the end of August, having failed to attract enough students to make it financially viable.
Four UTCs – Hackney, Black Country, Lancashire and Central Bedfordshire, have already closed, and Royal Greenwich UTC will convert to a school this summer.
Other UTCs have faced problems. Cambridge UTC was told by Ofsted in November that it was inadequate, while the Heathrow Aviation Engineering UTC and Buckinghamshire UTC have both been hit with financial notices to improve by the Education Funding Agency .
In September, another UTC, developed in partnership with Burton and South Derbyshire College, was scrapped before it even opened its doors – despite the government having already spent £8m on it.
Ofsted’s former chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw raised eyebrows in July when he warned they needed to make “radical improvement” if the model was to survive.
This followed a commitment in the Conservative Party manifesto ahead of 2015 the general election to put a UTC “within reach of every city”.