When the IPPR published their interim report “Transitions at 14” in September 2016, I was encouraged to see high quality research data which backed up my direct experience of UTC student recruitment. Their interim report identified that UTC students “are more likely to have lower attainment at key stage 2, and to have ‘under-progressed’ between the ages of 7 and 11” and that “based on their attainment at KS2, they are predicted to achieve GCSE grades below the national average.” They also noted that “…14–19 institutions are, in general, attracting the lower attaining and more disadvantaged pupils from ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools, and the higher-attaining and less disadvantaged pupils from schools rated as ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’.”
This made sense to me and reflected the experience at Silverstone UTC where the majority of our first cohort had “under-progressed” in KS3, but made very good progress with us in KS4. This may also explain why UTCs tend to appear to underperform when compared to national school performance measures.
So, when the final report was published by IPPR last week, I was surprised and disappointed to read that they cited poor Progress 8 scores as a reason for UTCs not to recruit at 14. Confusingly the report even acknowledged that the UTC curriculum was not suited to the Progress 8 measure.
The report describes a number of structural issues with recruitment at age 14, and the research identifies these accurately. However, their proposed solution is give up rather than undertake some decent root cause analysis and propose ways to fix them. Addressing the root cause is what the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, the charity behind the UTC programme, is trying to do, and they have had some significant success. New legislation, which requires local authorities to write to parents of Year 9 students has had a significant effect on Year 10 applications for September 2017 – doubling the number in the three months from March to May.
The IPPR report recommendations represent a view that is purely educationalist with no appetite for looking beyond the demands of the existing system. It reminds me of that apocryphal Henry Ford quote: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” We need innovative thinking rather than a recycled and narrow view of education.
The report ought to consider the needs of the country and its employers. Do that and it is easy to find a reason for UTCs to exist. Our NEET rates are evidence of this need. Having concluded that we need UTCs, what needs to change is the ground into which UTCs have been sown and then for them to be fed and watered appropriately. The impact of the new legislation points towards better recruitment overall. It is too early to evaluate the impact of this and declare that recruitment at 14 should stop.
Lastly, the report concludes that UTCs should become part of the General FE provision available without any research to suggest that this would be successful. This is shoddy and not thought through. We work closely with our local FE College but they are distinct and different from UTCs.
This report is hugely disappointing. We need more research to look into transfer at 14 and a more thorough examination, using up to date information, could have provided useful insight for the next government. Instead it is a missed opportunity.
Neil Patterson, Principal, Silverstone UTC