Baker Dearing Educational Trust responded to a recent report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). The report, which looks at UTCs and transition at 14, has a number of inaccuracies that Baker Dearing has addressed following its publication. Charles Parker, CEO of the Trust, commented on this research in pieces for the TES and The Times. The following article from The Times was published on 1 June 2017.
The Institute for Public Policy Research’s (IPPR) recent report about University Technical Colleges and transition at 14 is flawed and incomplete. It is regrettable that a responsible and reputable institution, such as the IPPR, should have issued such a report.
University Technical Colleges (UTCs) are technical schools for 14 to 19 year olds. They address the problem identified so often by employers – that the economy has a serious skills shortage. But nothing like enough 18 year-olds are leaving English schools and colleges able and willing to fill the gap. Employers and the local universities back UTCs, which offer those young people interested in practical technical subjects, like cyber security or engineering, the chance to start studying them at 14 alongside traditional GCSEs.
The single big point, which every observer, including IPPR rightly seizes on, is that it is difficult to attract into UTCs a balanced intake of students at the age of 14. This has proved harder to achieve than we anticipated when we started in 2010. IPPR wants us to abandon 14-19 and says that UTCs should be post-16 only. But, in common with much of Europe, we believe 14 is the right age to start. It is when many children begin to work out where their interests lie and realise that the normal mainstream curriculum may not suit them.
These days there is much less technical education or skills training in mainstream schools, which means that most students embark on post-16 courses without the basic grounding. So post-16 courses alone, as suggested by IPPR, will not address the skills gap. Starting technical education at 14 gives young people the foundation they need at 16 to progress quickly to demanding (A-level equivalent) technical courses. When 18 year-olds leave a UTC they are ready to tackle higher level courses, which is where the skills shortage is most acute.
The data used by IPPR is from 2013 to 2015 and takes no account of recent developments, which follow years of work by Baker Dearing. These changes are helping to overcome the challenges of recruiting at 14, without turning the entire school system on its head.
These include a legal requirement that all local authorities should write to the parents of Year 9 children to tell them about their local UTC. This happened for the first time in Spring 2017. The number of applications for September 2017 is now running at more than double the rate of this time last year. UTC Silverstone has seen an increase in applications from 98 to 197 from just March to May this year and at Aston University Engineering Academy there are 270 on their waiting list for Year 10 places.
In addition, the government has legislated to entitle UTCs to go into local schools from September 2017 to explain to the students the type of education that UTCs offer. We believe that this will lead to a further significant increase in the rate of applications at 14. The outstanding destination data of UTCs, are ignored by IPPR. Of the 1,292 UTC leavers aged 18 in July 2016 only five were not in education, employment or training, whereas the national average unemployment rate at 18 is 11.8%. 44% went to universities from UTCs in 2016 – higher than the national average of mainstream schools, 29% became apprentices – three times the level of mainstream schools and 15% started a job.
After seven years of this programme, we know that UTCs are right for their students, right for the economy, but sit uneasily within the education system. We do not need wholesale system change to allow UTCs to flourish. We just need support for innovation and small smart changes to firmly establish this vital specialist 14-19 pathway.