UTCs have 'failed to establish their position', spending watchdog says

Many of the government’s multimillion-pound university technical colleges have “failed to establish their position in the educational landscape”, and other new institutions are at risk of going the same way, according to the National Audit Office.

An investigation into the delivery of science, technology, engineering and maths skills by the government spending watchdog found that £192 million has so far been spent on UTCs – 14-to-19 institutions that offer technical courses alongside academic GCSEs and A-levels.

However, despite the government’s investment and continued support for the programme, many UTCs have “struggled to attract enough students”, the NAO warned.

Since the project’s inception in 2010, eight UTCs have either closed completely or converted to become schools after experiencing poor levels of recruitment at 14.

The NAO is concerned that history will repeat itself, and warns that new Institutes of Technology – regional institutions offering technical courses equivalent to A-levels, diplomas and degrees – risk the same problems as UTCs.

“Involvement of employers from the outset should help them align provision with local skills needs, and IoT status will be awarded competitively,” the NAO said.

“However, recent plans to link the IoTs to universities has caused concern about whether they are further education or higher education providers. As new institutions being introduced into an already crowded provider marketplace, there is a risk they will fail to establish themselves in the education landscape.”

The report does, however, praise the government’s efforts to improve STEM teaching in schools. It said better training and attempts to attract former teachers back to the workforce had shown “some positive results”.

“Early-stage research indicates that the £67 million maths and physics teacher supply package, aimed at recruiting an additional 2,500 teachers and improving the skills of 15,000 non-specialist teachers in these subjects, is having a positive impact.”

But elements of the programme have been less successful. For example, the government’s return to teaching pilot has recruited just 428 teachers against a target of 810. Just 330 of the participants completed the training provided.