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UTCs should offer 16 to 19 education, report urges

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University technical colleges should be used in part to deliver the new T level qualifications, according to think tank IPPR.

The University technical colleges programme should be “repurposed” to deliver specialist technical provision to students aged 16 to 19, a new report has recommended.

According to the Transition at 14 report, published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) today, both UTCs and studio schools are failing to recruit sufficient numbers of pupils; attract pupils with a broad mix of backgrounds and abilities; deliver a broad and balanced curriculum offer; and enhance pupils’ progress and performance.

It went on to stress that seven UTCs had closed or announced plans to close since the first were opened in 2011, and two thirds of both UTCs and studio schools fell within the bottom 10 per cent of schools nationally for the new Progress 8 measure of pupil performance.

Revised remit

Transition at 14 should therefore been abandoned by the next government, IPPR said, and instead  the UTCs programme should be repurposed to deliver high-quality, specialist technical provision to students aged 16-19. All new UTCs should open according to this revised remit, said the report, while existing UTCs should also largely convert to become 16-19 providers, with the exception of those with a record of high performance.

UTCs should be used, in part, to deliver new T level qualifications, and provide a high-quality pathway into university, work or an Institute of Technology.

Craig Thorley, senior research fellow at IPPR, said the government had championed UTCs and studio schools as institutions able to deliver technical education to young people from age 14. “However, these schools are not, on the whole, working for pupils, and face too many barriers to being successful,” Mr Thorley said. “Recruitment difficulties and poor results have led to a growing number of closures, with more likely to follow.”

He said the next Parliament would see a greater commitment to technical and vocational education, in order to form part of a modern industrial strategy post-Brexit. “In order to save the UTCs programme, these schools should be converted to post-16 providers able to deliver high-quality technical education in line with the needs of young people and the economy,” he said.

‘Innovative, high-quality education’

But Charles Parker, chief executive of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, founded by Lord Baker and Lord Dearing to develop and promote the concept of university technical colleges, said the report  was “flawed and incomplete”.

“University Technical Colleges are schools for 14–19 year olds,” Mr Parker said. “They deliver an innovative, high-quality education combining technical, practical and academic learning. The IPPR report takes no account of the outstanding destination data of UTCs. Of the 1,300 UTC leavers aged 18 in July 2016 only five were not in education, employment or training whereas the national average unemployment rate at 18 is 11.8 per cent.”

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