Multimillion UTC initiative is failing, says critical report. DfE fights back

Janet Downs's picture

Many struggle to recruit pupils, ten have closed

The University Technical College (UTC) initiative is failing, an Education Policy Institute report concludes.

60 UTCs have opened but one-in-six is no longer operating or due to close.  The capital funding for these 60 was £330m, £51m of this was for UTCs which are no longer operating.

Despite this expenditure, which doesn’t include operating costs, bail-out grants and closure costs, the initiative isn’t a success, the EPI says. 

Many UTCs struggle to recruit pupils and over half of UTC students recruited at age 14 don’t stay on after age 16.  Those that do remain are ‘less likely’ to stay the course than their peers elsewhere.  

Post-16 UTC pupils make poorer A level progress that those in state-funded mainstream schools although they are more likely to improve their original GCSE grades in English and Maths than their peers in other schools.

A higher proportion of UTCs is less than good when compared with other schools.  However, the sample is too small to consider this a reliable conclusion about UTC Ofsted performance as a whole.

DfE fights back against findings

The Department for Education has fought back against the findings.  A DfE spokesperson said ‘the best providers’ provide ‘skills and knowledge’ which are helpful in securing specialist technical jobs.

It’s true that many UTCs do well.  Reading UTC was rated outstanding in 2015.  Others, such as Liverpool Life Sciences UTC and UTC Sheffield City Centre, are rated good.  But many UTCs do not do well by their pupils.  As noted above, ten are closed or about to close.   

The DfE says twice as many UTC pupils leaving at 16 start an apprenticeship compared to the national average.  But very few 16-year-olds take up apprentices, 29,000 in 2016/17, a Commons Briefing Paper* finds.

The proportion of UTC pupils entering apprenticeships at Key Stage 5 ‘is three times as high as pupils from other state-funded schools.’  This is true.  At Key Stage 5, 20% of UTC pupils start an apprenticeship compared with 7% of pupils elsewhere.  This should be expected – UTCs are set up as sites of employment sector specific vocational education and are often linked to local employers.  But UTC pupils are also less likely to proceed to university (41% compared to 50% elsewhere).

However, the apprenticeship figure should be used with caution as only ten UTCs had data available.  This is far too small a sample to use as a comparison with other state-funded schools.

Move UTC admissions to age 16, says report

The EPI recommends raising the UTC admission age to 16 as moving schools at 14 is not the norm in England.  Post-16 UTCs could then become ‘flagship level 3 technical institutions’.  This makes sense, although they would have to be distinctive to differentiate themselves from general further education colleges.


*downloadable here  


Note: some people, including me, refer to UTCs and University Technology Colleges.  This is a misnomer - UTCs are University Technical Colleges

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John Mountford's picture
Thu, 11/10/2018 - 20:14

Surely, not another flagship conservative policy lying becalmed!! But, hold on. Surfing over the waves comes the trusty, tireless DfE spokesperson to proclaim that all is in fact well. In defence of the initiative, those colleges that work seem to be providing greater access to apprenticeships. My problem with this is, as with so many other initiatives, it is too soon to tell whether the scheme is delivering value for money on a scale that justifies its continuation. This is far from a minor point when the funding crisis in education is worsening, unless of course you accept the lies that pass out of ministers mouths, backed up by a failing department of education with its endless supply of increasingly biased spokespeople.

G's picture
Fri, 12/10/2018 - 09:42

‘... trusty, tireless DfE spokesperson ...’

Has any member of the public ... this is a genuine question ... ever had a reply from the DfE which doesn’t claim that every government initiative in education is securing improvements as expected? I haven’t.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 12/10/2018 - 11:25

I sometimes think the DfE 'spokesperson' is actually a robot primed with positive statements to be used when required.  That explains the constant repetition of such soundbites as '1.9 million more pupils in good or better schools since 2010' (now discredited) and money going into schools is the highest ever.

This isn't new.  Deception about academies, for example, has been going on since they were introduced in the early 2000s.

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