Students at UTCs found to be making ‘poor progress’

Wigan UTC
Wigan UTC

Concerns have been raised about the performance of university technical colleges in a detailed report by an education policy think tank.

There are 50 such colleges in England, including Wigan UTC, providing education to 14 to 19-year-olds with a strong focus on technical education.

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But the report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) has highlighted concerns.

Students made poor progress during key stage four and post-16 academic study, with previously high attaining students making particularly poor progress.

More than half of students dropped out between the ages of 16 and 17 and those that continued were less likely to complete final studies.

UTCs receive far worse Ofsted ratings than the national average, according to the research.

However, the report did find students aged 16 to 18 taking technical/vocational qualifications in UTCs performed close to the national average and slightly better than further education colleges.

It also said students were trained for growing industries offering high-skilled work.

The EPI recommended the Government increases the admissions age from 14 to 16 and that UTCs focus on existing technical qualifications and eventually the new ‘T-levels’.

David Laws, executive chairman of the EPI, said: “Since 2010, the Department for Education has spent hundreds of millions of pounds on university technical colleges, to help improve technical education for 14 to 19-year-olds and improve skills provision for key sectors of our economy. These are worthy ambitions but our evaluation of UTC performance shows that this programme is not so far effective in terms of the outcomes being delivered.

“Students generally seem to make less progress in UTCs, even in more technical and scientific subjects, and rates of drop-out and non-completion are very high. This poor performance is not simply about how UTCs are evaluated, it is about the quality of learning and the engagement of students. The Government should not fund further UTC expansion until a review is undertaken and steps are put in place to deliver a sustainable and effective programme.”

David Robinson, director of post-16 and skills at EPI, said: “With low take-up, high dropout rates and poor student progress, our research shows that the long-term sustainability of university technical colleges is becoming increasingly uncertain.

“Rather than small modifications to the way in which they operate, it is clear that UTCs require fundamental remodelling.”

UTCs were introduced in 2010, with Wigan UTC opening in September 2013.

A Wigan UTC spokesman said: “Wigan UTC is a ‘good’ school, as rated by Ofsted. It has some of the best destinations for students in the local area, consistently supporting 100 per cent of students to go into employment, apprenticeships or on to university.

“UTCs do not use Progress 8 as a typical measure of their success as the young people who join them have spent the first three years of this measure at another school, so it isn’t a fair representation of how well they settle and perform in the new environment, as recognised by the Department for Education.”