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New report into University Technical Colleges published

New independent research has revealed a student’s attendance can improve by up to seven per cent at a University Technical College.

Education think tank ImpactEd has completed an evaluation of the 44-strong University Technical College (UTC) programme on its curriculum, student destinations, employer engagement, and employability skills.

The report also covers attendance, about which one UTC student told researchers: “What is great about the UTC is that even if you fall down and don’t feel motivated, they really try and be there to support you.”

Tackling absenteeism has become a key issue for the Government and Labour, as England’s school absence rate has almost doubled since the years before the pandemic.

ImpactEd’s findings illustrate a strong link between a positive school experience and higher attendance, providing educators and ministers with a possible route to bringing down the absence rate.

Click the image to view the report.

Specialist subjects and trust in teachers encourage attendance

ImpactEd’s evaluation was based on average attendance, destinations data, and student surveys collected by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, the national representative body for UTCs. ImpactEd also conducted focus groups with Year 11 and 13 students at four UTCs.

UTCs, which deliver a technical education curriculum in concert with employers, traditionally accept students at 14. ImpactEd found that the average attendance by Year 10 students at one UTC was 97 per cent, compared to 90 per cent for Year 9 at their previous schools.

Graph showing how average attendance improves between Year 9 at a feeder school and Year 10 at a UTC.

At five UTCs which accept younger students, average attendance for Year 9 increased by as much as five per cent on the Year 8 scores from the students’ previous schools.

This, the report reads, reflected students’ positive reception to the specialised subjects and opportunities provided at the UTCs.

In one focus group, a student said their attendance “has changed for the better” since starting at a UTC.

“It makes me want to come to school because it’s something new every day it’s very interesting. You don’t want to miss much.”

Disadvantaged UTC students more likely to reach HE or apprenticeships

Around a quarter of UTC Year 13 leavers progressed onto apprenticeships in Autumn 2023, ImpactEd reported.

Whereas just five per cent of school leavers nationally progressed onto apprenticeships in 2021 (the latest available national data).

UTC leavers from a disadvantaged background were also more likely to progress onto higher education (57% v 54%) or apprenticeships (3% v 13%) than the national average.

A UTC student told researchers: “I didn’t know what career path I wanted to choose, but once I came to the UTC and experienced what engineering is like and what employee engagement we can get, it helped me want to become an engineer and show everyone that girls can also do it.”

Graph showing how UTC leavers from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to progress to Level 4 destinations than the national average.

Students’ demand for employer engagement being met by UTCs

Ninety per cent of Year 11 UTC students agreed that they work regularly with employers in several subject areas.

UTCs are supported by employers with mock interviews, student presentations, and ‘workday Wednesdays’ where different employers visit to discuss their experiences and what is required for a career in their field.

Students’ answers to the survey questions revealed a great demand for employer engagement, with around 90 per cent of Year 9, 10, and 12 students agreeing they “really want employer experiences such as projects, talks, and work experience” as part of their education.

However, students told researchers this did not happen at their previous schools: “Nobody came in, nobody actually helped us with any idea of what we wanted to be in the future,” one student said.

Yet at the UTCs, they added: “We’ve got employees coming in every single week. And they support us throughout the whole journey.”

Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Robert Halfon said:

“High-quality technical education is a vital first rung on the ladder of opportunity for young people.

“I’m committed to building a skills and apprenticeships nation and UTCs form a key part of that, helping make sure more young people can build successful careers and employers can continue to tap into the talent pipeline they and our economy need to grow.”

Baker Dearing Educational Trust chief executive Simon Connell commented:

“This report proves how University Technical Colleges are meeting students’ demand for employer engagement and technical education while boosting attendance and inclusion.

“ImpactEd’s findings will help us build and improve the support that we provide, not just to UTCs, but to all of our partners as we seek to widen access to high-quality technical education.

“This includes our UTC Sleeve initiative, which replicates within a mainstream school the UTC education that ImpactEd found students value. We will be working with interested schools to expand the UTC Sleeve initiative over the coming months.”