Can UTCs survive?

Schools Week, the respected education newspaper, is reporting Michael Gove as saying that the UTC programme has failed. This will be bad news for Lord Baker whose brainchild the idea was in the first place. UTCs were Lord Baker’s second attempt to kick-start a technology sector in schooling in England, after the limited success of his City Technology College programme initiated when he was Secretary of State for Education.

Mr Gove’s comment will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog. A thriving technology sector is probably a good idea for schooling in England, but to create a new type of school for some, but not all, pupils at age 14 was asking for trouble. To compound the recruitment problems facing these new schools by using the market model of either compete and succeed or fail and die was to demonstrate why Tory market economics finds it hard to work in education.

Incidentally, closure is a feature of market economics, as even Waitrose has apparently found out recently, with the announcement of the closure of five of its branches.

So, where does technology education go from here? The easy answer is to let the existing UTCs and their companion Studio Schools limp on, with some making a go of it where there is local support and others failing to recruit sufficient students to be financially viable. A better answer, and one that should be welcomed by the clutch of former accountants currently running the DfE, would be to call in the receivers and see how the assets can be best used for Schools England. Will the current Secretary of State have the courage to take this radical approach? We will see.

With the raising of the learning leaving age to eighteen, the break at fourteen for some pupils was always going to look out of line with the idea of a common curriculum up to the age of sixteen, even with those pupils that would benefit from a fresh start at fourteen. My guess is that the promoters of UTCs and Studio Schools didn’t plan effectively for the type of pupils other schools would encourage to switch in an era where cash rules and pupils come with a price upon their heads.

If UTCs are going to be a short-term feature of our education scene, could the Secretary of State please now pay attention to the fate of Design and Technology in all our schools? Post BREXIT we will need those with the skills and interest in the whole gamut of design and technology to help create our future wealth. Sadly, the subject has been ignored by the DfE for too long and the limp approach to the D&T teacher shortage adopted in the recent Migration Advisory Committee report didn’t receive the rebuke it deserved from the business community.

We need a thriving design and technology sector in our schools, please will someone now come up with a credible plan to help us achieve that aim?


10 thoughts on “Can UTCs survive?

  1. UTCs were always a flawed concept. As you say, secondary schools would be unwilling to encourage pupils to leave at 14 because it would result in reduced funding. That is, unless the pupils were ‘challenging’ in which case, as Gove now realises, they were encouraged to move to UTCs or studio schools.

    Gove bears responsibility for this. On 27 February 2012, he told the House of Commons:

    ‘University technical colleges provide a high-quality technical education. That is why they are a key part of our school reforms….’

    Earlier, on 11 October 2011, a DfE press release praised UTCs saying those who set them up were ‘true pioneers’ pushing revolutionary change, they would increase ‘choice’ and were a ‘key part of the Government’s Plan for Growth’ .

    The millions spent on UTCs would have been better spent support a national roll-out of an updated Technical and Vocational Educational Initiative (TVEI), a Baker (now Lord) initiative which did much to raise the profile of generic work-related skills and careers education/guidance.

    • Janet,

      I recall the success of TVEI and saw it as central and local government working together. We need a coherent policy. now Fe is back in the DfE i hope that is more possible than when it was split between two departments.


  2. Have you seen dear Lord Baker’s response in the Telegraph on the 17th February? “My technical schools are a great success”.! Would welcome your thoughts on this.

    • Roger,

      Yes, I did see the response from Lord B. There are some successes, as he makes clear, but overall the jury is out and some might be better converted to 11-18 schools to cope with increasing demographic demand rather than build yet another school.


  3. Just to add that at least Gove has seen the error of his ways – whilst Baker has not – & had the guts to apologise for his error in the national press.

    • Roger,

      I couldn’t possibly comment, but I unearthed the original 1987 Baker plan for CTCs recently. It was called ‘A new choice of school’. The purpose was to create fresh opportunities for the children of our cities. His heart has always been in the right place, but not sometimes the execution of his dream.


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