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UTCs are transformational

UTCs are transformational.

A much higher percentage of UTC students, from disadvantaged backgrounds, go on to university when compared with other secondary schools.

As the most extraordinary school term in living memory draws to a close it is fitting that the final post of this series, which has highlighted the value of a UTC education, focuses on where students go next.

UTCs provide young people with an educational journey with a destination at the end. What’s the point of getting great examination grades, or making substantial academic progress at school, if there isn’t the right reward, in the form of a university place, apprenticeship start, or job, for this endeavour? Indeed, across England the sad fact remains that about one in twelve young people who have taken A Level, or equivalent, courses, subsequently become unemployed after leaving school at eighteen years of age.

As bad as this statistic sounds, when broken down between disadvantaged students, which represent just under 30% of the school and college population, and other students, the evidence is even more shocking: about one in eight young people classified as disadvantaged join the ranks of the unemployed at eighteen after completing A Level courses or equivalent. They are also less likely to go to university, or progress to other forms of ‘higher’ study such as an apprenticeship.

Fortunately, this is not the case at UTCs. By tailoring courses of study for all students with a destination in mind, young people at UTCs, especially those with disadvantaged backgrounds, are more aware of the opportunities available to them after completing their studies. Furthermore, regular university and employer engagement empowers all students with the confidence to pursue the right pathways for them after leaving their UTC.

This was a particular aim of the UTC programme from the outset, so it wasn’t a surprise that the destinations data of our students showed that a greater percentage progressed to higher apprenticeships, or a lower percentage became unemployed compared with national averages. Last year, we commissioned the research organisation, NFER (the National Foundation for Educational Research), to look into whether students in areas of high deprivation were more likely to progress to university or other forms of higher study from a UTC when compared with other local schools and colleges. The results were very powerful: NFER found that in areas of high deprivation two thirds of UTC students progress to higher education, which is significantly higher than from other local institutions (about half).

At the present time, there is rightly much debate about the widening gap between disadvantaged students and others as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. Urgent, co-ordinated measures across all schools and government are needed to address the growing social mobility divide. However, as the evidence from UTCs shows, rather than a sole focus on knowledge ‘catch up’ in schools to tackle this issue, perhaps, now, an equally effective approach is to pivot the emphasis of education away from knowledge-heavy examinations and towards destinations? By doing this UTCs have transformed the lives of many students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.