David Robinson, Director of Post-16 and Skills at the Education Policy Institute

University Technical College research: a response to the Baker Dearing Educational Trust

Earlier this month, the Education Policy Institute published a detailed analysis of University Technical Colleges (UTCs).

The main findings were that:

UTC students get poor GCSE grades

Compared with similar ability students in other schools. This is true even when controlling for the fact that UTCs only have students for 2 full years prior to taking their GCSEs.

UTCs have high dropout rates

Over half of students don’t continue studying in the UTC after their GCSEs.

Performance in the post 16 provision offered by UTCs is more mixed.

UTC students taking A levels make poor progress, but those taking technical and vocational qualifications perform close to the national average, and generally better than those in Further Education colleges.

One fifth of Key Stage 5 leavers go on to do an apprenticeship

Three times the national average, suggesting that UTCs are delivering good school to work transitions.

UTCs are training students

For growing industries offering high-skilled work.

 

Recommendations from the original EPI report

 
 

The government should consider changing the admissions age for UTCs from 14 to 16.

While it is common in other countries for students to make a transition in education before 16, England essentially has a pre- and post-16 system. UTCs have struggled with admissions at age 14. With poor levels of progress and retention, it is not clear that students are benefiting from a 14-19 education.

 
 

With provision starting at age 16, UTCs should focus on delivering high-quality existing technical qualifications and eventually the new ‘T-levels’ - relevant to local and national skill needs.

With UTCs only focusing on ages 16-18, this would give them an opportunity to deliver differentiated, specialised, high-quality technical education. This should allow UTC students to progress to higher levels of technical education in Institutes of Technology, National Colleges, university, or other providers, should they wish to pursue further study.

 
 

Better measures are needed that account for the technical-oriented provision of UTCs.

Improved destination measures are needed that also account for the characteristics of students, so that the particular intakes of UTCs can be taken into account.   

 

 

On 26th October, Charles Parker, the CEO of Baker Dearing Educational Trust - an organisation that sits at the centre of the UTC network and promote and supports UTCs - wrote an article for FE News, defending the performance of UTCs.

That article included a number of points on our research that require corrections:

1. “The [EPI] authors have never visited a UTC”

On 1st March 2018, 5 members of EPI staff, including the two authors and our Executive Chairman, David Laws, visited the South Bank Engineering UTC and were accompanied by Lord Baker, the chairman of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust and the principal on a tour of the UTC.

The team spoke at length with students and the principal. In addition to this UTC visit, the report authors also discussed the draft findings of the report with 3 UTC principals, as well as representatives from UTC sponsoring universities and employers with close links to UTCs.

2. “[EPI] also took no notice of emerging evidence of the success of these innovative types of schools; for example, we have just published the destinations of our 18 year-olds leaving UTCs and they were excellent for the fourth year running. Over 87% of UTC students have gone on to university, apprenticeships or full time employment. This compares with a national average of school and college leavers of 74%.”

Areas where UTCs perform well were highlighted in our report, for example, the high proportion of leavers taking up apprenticeships. However official figures don’t resemble those quoted by Mr Parker.

The Baker Dearing Educational Trust collect and publish their own destinations figures which give a figure for UTCs similar to the 87 per cent quoted. But these figures are not directly comparable with official figures as they are collected on a different basis.

For example they don’t take into account whether former students sustained their destination in the same way that official figures do.

Therefore any student who started at one of these positive destinations, but did not stay for long would be included in the Baker Dearing figures, but not the national averages they are compared with.

The most recent official destinations figures show that 79 per cent of UTC students continued onto higher education, apprenticeships or full time employment, compared to a national average of 78 per cent.

This gives a difference of only 1 per cent between UTCs and the national average, rather than the 13 per cent quoted.

3. “The EPI also ignored evidence of the previous education of the 4,000 students joining UTCs at 14”.

Following our engagement with the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, the organisation sent us some summary information on the background of pupils joining UTCs.

We did not incorporate these data into our report as the figures were collected from a survey of principals, whereas the national averages we used were derived from official school administrative data, collated by the Department for Education.

The two datasets are not comparable and therefore it was impossible to draw any conclusions from the survey.

4. “In spite of these headwinds, we have opened 50 UTCs since starting the UTC programme in 2010.”

Since 2010 59 UTCs have opened, 8 have closed, and 1 is no longer a UTC. These figures are presented in our report.

EPI is committed to producing independent, impartial and evidence-based research. This approach sometimes produces findings that are hard to hear, but we believe that good evidence is a pre-requisite to a high quality, equitable, education system.

David Robinson, Director of Post-16 and Skills at the Education Policy Institute

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