Vocational education
In just 10 years, more than one in six University Technical Colleges across the UK have closed. Source: Shutterstock

Vocational education in the UK is not performing well judging by the results of an investigation into the nation’s University Technical Colleges (UTC). A type of free school in England that provides technical education to 14 to 19-year-olds, the government has spent a lavish £792 million on UTCs to produce graduates who could meet the needs of local employers and the economy.

Almost a decade later, the study has revealed that more than one in six has closed, with the majority only half full, according to the new National Audit Office report.

“In total 58 university technical colleges (UTCs) have opened but 10 of these subsequently closed as UTCs,” notes the report.

“In January 2019 (when data were last collected), the 48 open UTCs had 13,572 students. This represented 45 percent of their maximum capacity of 29,934. Occupancy rates at individual UTCs ranged from 10 percent to 101 percent.”

In terms of academic performance, the report found that UTCs are performing below par compared to other schools at GCSE level. Only 28 percent of UTC students obtained a grade 5 or above in English and maths GCSEs, while the figure among all state-funded mainstream schools is 44 percent.

“Similarly, at A level and equivalent qualifications, UTC students’ attainment was lower than that of students at other types of education provider,” said the report.

However, the report did note that UTCs aren’t expected to meet all appropriate metrics due to their differing technical focus and age range.

UTCs were created to provide clear progression routes into higher education and employment, but the report found only 38 percent went on to higher education after A levels or equivalent, below the national average of 50 percent. Only a fraction of UTC students were entered for the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) in 2017-18 at just six percent, compared to 39 percent of students in state-funded schools.

The number of UTCs rated as good or outstanding by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) is also 24 percent less than the rate for secondary schools. There are almost 5,000 students attending UTCs that were considered “inadequate” or “requiring improvement” by inspectors.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: “£792 million has been spent but UTCs are running under capacity, often perform less well than other secondary schools and just under half of those inspected either ‘require improvement’ or are ‘inadequate’.

“UTCs were set up to improve technical education but 17 percent of UTCs that opened have since closed, leaving hard-pressed local authorities to find alternative places for the students affected.

vocational education

Source: Shutterstock

“This report provides further evidence as to why the Department for Education is my top department of concern.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education highlighted that the UTC’s success should be judged by the number of pupils progressing into apprenticeships: “We have been clear that the department is committed to ensuring people have access to high-quality technical education across the country.

“UTCs are helping to deliver on that, with 21% of pupils progressing into apprenticeships after completing their post-16 education, more than double the national average.

“As this report recognises, we have taken significant action to support and raise the profile of UTCs to make sure they continue to play a role in our diverse education system and provide the skills that employers need.”

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