‘If the Government remains committed to UTCs, it needs to do more to help them establish themselves and thrive’, says new research
22 June 2017
A new report by the National Foundation of Educational Research (NFER), released today [Thursday 22 June 2017], has highlighted that if the Government remains committed to University Technical Colleges (UTCs) being the best option for promoting and improving technical / vocational education, it needs to do more to help them establish themselves and thrive(1).
The research ‘University Technical Colleges: Beneath the Headlines – NFER Contextual Analysis’(2) compares the characteristics and outcomes of UTC students with similar students at the schools they attended during Key Stage 3 prior to joining the UTC(3).
One of the challenges UTCs have faced since they were introduced has been around student recruitment. Many UTCs have struggled to recruit students in sufficient numbers but, given the wider context that new schools often have difficulties establishing themselves and UTCs are trying to attract students at an age atypical for moving school, it should not be surprising that some UTCs are struggling to recruit students. And while no UTC is currently operating at full capacity, some are doing relatively well.
The report also found that at the start of Key Stage 3, absence rates for future UTC students were similar to their peers but by the end of that stage, a significant difference emerged. This suggests that there are some challenges with engagement for UTC students prior to moving to them for Key Stage 4.
Another key finding from the report is that on average, UTC students perform worse than their peers in their previous schools when judged using the headline Key Stage 4 accountability measures. However, NFER analysis suggests that at least some of this lower performance may be because the headline accountability measures do not recognise the composition or breadth of curriculum offered by UTCs. In addition, UTCs are only responsible for students in two of the five years that they spend in secondary education, but are being held to account for all five years.
According to the NFER research, unless UTCs get more support from Government to overcome some of the challenges they face, they are likely to continue to struggle and be vulnerable to closure in future.
If the Government remains committed to UTCs being the best option for improving / promoting technical and vocational education, and for UTCs to continue to recruit students from age 14, they need to do more to help them establish themselves and thrive. The Government should:
- Independently assess students attending UTCs at the point of entry so that progress while in the institution can be properly measured
- Urgently examine how well the current headline accountability measures fit with the curriculum and purpose of UTCs, with the aim of ensuring that they do not disadvantage UTCs (or their students). If this concludes the headline measures do not assess UTCs fairly, consideration should be given as to how the existing measures might be adapted or complemented with additional measures to better assess UTC performance.
- Conduct further work to review whether there are other disincentives in the system (for example, the impact on a school’s funding) which may be hindering UTCs from recruiting pupils, and take appropriate action to remove these to ensure there is a level playing field.
Commenting on the report, Lesley Duff, NFER’s Director of Research, said: “UTCs have attracted a lot of negative comment since they were first introduced. It is clear that UTCs have had a challenging start and the situation for many is unlikely to be sustainable in the medium term without more support. However, the wider context in terms of the scale of the challenge UTCs face in trying to recruit students at age 14 and the extent to which the headline accountability measures fairly assess their performance delivering a curriculum with a substantial skills focus, is often overlooked. If the Government wants UTCs to work, it needs to give them more support.”
Notes for editors
- UTCs have been part of the schools’ landscape since the first one opened in 2011 following the passing of the 2010 Academies Act. UTCs are new academies for 14 to 19 year olds where students combine technical and practical learning with academic study.
- Kettlewell, K., Bernardinelli, D., Hillary, J. and Sumner, C. (2017). University Technical Colleges: Beneath the Headlines. NFER Contextual Analysis. Slough: NFER
- The National Curriculum is divided into four Key Stages that children are taken through during their school life. Key Stage 3 covers years 7, 8 and 9 (ages 11 – 14) and Key Stage 4 covers years 10 and 11 (ages 14 – 16).
- NFER is a leading independent provider of rigorous research and insights in education, working to create an excellent education for all children and young people. We are a charity, whose robust and innovative research, assessments and other services are widely known and used by key decision-makers. Any surplus generated is reinvested in projects to support our charitable purpose. www.nfer.ac.uk; @TheNFER