University Technical Colleges (UTCs) are schools introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government, originally for 14-19 year olds, that work alongside employers and universities to deliver technical education and core curriculum subjects. This briefing sets out their conception, introduction, performance, and future direction.

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What are University Technical Colleges?

University Technical Colleges (UTCs) are schools introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government, that work alongside employers and universities to deliver technical education and core curriculum subjects. Most students join UTCs aged 14, but it is expected that any new UTCs will run from 11 to 18. UTCs operate as a type of academy in England. This means that they do not have to follow the national curriculum or employ teachers with qualified teacher status (apart from in certain circumstances such as Special Educational Needs Coordinators).

All UTCs are associated with the Baker Dearing Trust, which is a charity that was set up by Lord Baker in 2010. The charity “assists with the selection of potential UTCs for DfE approval and then [helps] each UTC prepare for opening… in particular by liaising between the sponsors and the DfE”. It charges UTCs a membership fee of £10,000 (Source: Charity Commission, Baker Dearing Educational Charity Trust)

UTCs: Profile and Performance

  • As of 1 October 2019, 48 UTCs were open across England. A total of 58 UTCS have opened since the first in September 2011, but 10 have subsequently closed.

 

Source: National Audit Office, Investigation into UTCs  (2019), p.15.

  • Of the 10 UTCs that closed to October 2019, 6 were transferred to other academy trusts, 1 site returned to a local authority, 1 gifted to a university, and 2 were awaiting a decision.
  • From the financial year 2010/11 to 2018/19, the DfE spent £792 million on the UTC programme, in addition to the per pupil funding that UTCs and other schools receive. 86% (£680 million) of this additional expenditure was on capital grants for land, building and equipment (Source: NAO, Investigation into University Technical Colleges, p. 7)
  • Occupancy rates at the 10 UTCs that have closed (as of October 2019) ranged between 23% and 26% in the two years before closure. The two-longest opened UTCs, were 96% and 101% occupied respectively in January 2019 (NAO, Investigation into UTCs, p.16).
  • Girls have consistently formed a minority of students at UTCs. In January 2014, 21% of students were female, compared to the national average of 50%. This has increased over time, reaching a peak of 29% in 2020.

 

Note: Student figures rounded to the nearest ten before 2018. Census taken in January each year. 

Source: DfE, ‘Schools Pupils and Their Characteristics- Underlying Data’, 2014-2020.

  • At their most recent full Ofsted inspection, 5% (2 UTCs) were judged outstanding compared to 21% of state-funded secondary phase schools and 48% (20 UTCs) were rated “good” compared to 56% across all secondaries in England (Ofsted, State-funded schools inspections and outcomes as at 31 March 2020– excludes providers that have not undergone a full inspection)
  • The Baker-Dearing Foundation Trust argues that the success of UTCs should be measured by employment outcomes, and that UTC students leave education in a more appealing position to employers compared to other school leavers. In 2016/17, after Key Stage 4 (aged 14-16), 9% of UTC students entered a sustained apprenticeship (5% national average) and 4% employment (3% national average), with around 94% in education or work (in line with the national average) (Source: DfE, Destinations of Key Stage 4 and 16-18 Students, England, 2017/18 (October 2019), p. 12).

Commentary

In February 2017, the former Education Secretary Michael Gove stated that UTCs “had failed because of their lack of academic rigour” and dividing education at 14 had not worked (The Times10 February 2017). The former Chancellor, George Osborne, told the Education Select Committee in 2018 that the UTC model of starting at 14 “worked very well in some cases, but it clearly has not worked in others” (Education Select Committee, Oral Evidence: Education in the North, HC 819, 2 May 2018, Q11).

The Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, stated in October 2019 on a visit to Plymouth UTC, that:

We should never underestimate the importance and the power that technical qualifications have in terms of driving our economic performance. And UTCs, such as this one in Plymouth, are a perfect exemplar of what we need to be doing in the future.

(Source: DfE, ‘Education Secretary Gavin Williamson visited students at UTC Plymouth College’, Twitter, 9 October 2019).

Improvement schemes post-2017 and Plans for future UTCs

The DfE began a three-year improvement programme for UTCs in September 2017. This included allowing UTCs to apply to align their age range more closely with other secondary schools, if there is a need for additional school places in the area. Since 2017, local authorities have a statutory duty to raise awareness of schools with an atypical age range. From January 2018 schools have had a statutory duty to allow access of UTC representatives to their schools to inform pupils about technical education.

In February 2019, Lord Baker and the Minister for the Schools System Lord Agnew wrote to the leaders of UTCs recommending that they join multi-academy Trusts in order to aid recruitment and financial stability. 20 of the 50 UTCs in March 2019 were already part of multi-academy trusts (FE Week, 15 March 2019). Membership of a multi-academy trust  formed part of the new Memorandum of Understanding between the DfE and the Baker Dearing Trust in June 2019.

Lord Baker also stated in October 2019 that “any new [UTCs] that come along will go from 11 to 18”, in an attempt to increase recruitment and close the gender gap.

The current Chair of the Baker-Dearing Trust, Simon Connell, stated his priority for the next three years was filling existing UTCs, rather than opening new ones (FE Week, 14 September 2019).

The Public Accounts Committee in June 2020 said that “it is not clear what [the DfE’s] vision is for UTCs in the future” and it should prepare to close those which do not meet financial targets. The Committee also called upon the DfE to do more increase occupancy, improve their financial sustainability and assess the value of the fee paid to the Baker-Dearing Trust (University Technical Colleges, 10 June 2020, pp 3,5). The Baker-Dearing Trust response to the Committee defended the role of the licence fee and called upon the Department for Education to assess the costs of a technical education. 

  • Commons Research Briefing CBP-7250
  • Authors: Nerys Roberts, Philip Loft, Robert Long, Shadi Danechi
  • Topics: Further education, Schools

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