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UTCs are “delivering the skills that our country needs,” says minister

Skills minister Robert Halfon MP speaking at a lecturn next to Lord Baker

University Technical Colleges are “delivering the skills that our country needs,” Skills Minister Robert Halfon MP told a packed parliamentary reception hosted by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust on Tuesday 12th December 2023.

The reception, which also recognised outstanding UTC students, came after UTC Principals, Chairs and multi-academy trust leaders were welcomed to Broadway House in London for the UTC Winter Conference that morning.

“UTCs have stood the test of time”

Opening the conference was Baker Dearing trustee and former education secretary Baroness Estelle Morris, who told attendees the history of the UK education sector was littered with “ideas that have not stood the test of time. UTCs have stood the test of time.”

Baroness Morris addressing the UTC Winter Conference

She criticised the lack of legislation from the Government – with the last two major pieces of school legislation having been withdrawn – stating that: “Legislation is not key to everything, but it does lay out a plan for the future. We’ve not had that and I think we’re frozen in time.”

Baroness Morris also said the next Government needs to “reset the dial” on the relationship between Ofsted and its stakeholders and the public and employers wish there was “greater creativity, more of the arts, more science in a broader curriculum with not so much box ticking.

“There is a mood for change.”

UTC has ‘undone the damage of mainstream school’ 

Following Baroness Morris was UTC Portsmouth Principal James Doherty, who led a workshop on vision and purpose in leadership.

This included tasking attendees with writing down, if they were talking to someone interested in their UTC, what to tell them about the UTC, what makes their UTC unique, and why should a student or staff member apply for their UTC.

UTC Leeds Principal Hannah Wilson then spoke to the conference about the school’s ‘Good’ Ofsted report, published earlier this year.

Inspectors had commended the school for its employer engagement and behaviour, the latter of which Hannah said has been tackled through a zero-tolerance policy on low-level disruption.

“There is now something tangibly different when employers talk to our kids,” Hannah told the conference with regards to behaviour, adding: “Parents say that we have undone the damage of a mainstream school.”

Following Hannah was Ofsted inspector and former UTC Norfolk Principal Alex Hayes, who offered attendees advice on handling inspectors’ deep dives, and warned that the inspectorate is again starting to look at student outcomes. He reinforced a point that Hannah had raised about encouraging parents to use Ofsted’s ParentView portal to feedback on their child’s school experience.

Another strong year for UTCs 

Alex, Hannah, and James then joined a panel with UTC Sheffield Executive Principal Nick Crew and Marc Doyle, an Ofsted lead inspector and chief executive of QUEST Multi-Academy Trust which includes University Collegiate School in Bolton, to take questions from the audience.

While the discussion generated more useful advice on Ofsted inspections, this was tempered by Marc, who told attendees: “If we spend all our time on Ofsted, we’re focusing on the wrong thing. We have got to focus on the children.”

Baker Dearing Educational Trust Chief Executive Simon Connell concluded the conference after the panel discussion, with a presentation highlighting the many successes that the UTC programme has seen in 2023.

This included the announcement last summer that two new UTCs have been approved for Southampton and Doncaster, respectively.

Simon also highlighted how the Ofsted ratings for the UTC network have risen to 84%, above the national average for secondary schools.

Enrolment and attainment have also improved this year while student destinations remain strong, with 61% of UTC leavers progressing onto education at Level 4 and above.

Baker Dearing has also run 104 events for UTC staff and organised 11 multi-UTC activities including the digital health careers event APEX and an event for female and non-binary students held at Amazon’s London headquarters.

Multiple politicians from both the Conservatives and Labour have visited UTCs this year, including the skills minister Robert Halfon MP and shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson, Simon added.

Baker Dearing Chief Executive Simon Connell speaking with Labour shadow ministers Catherine McKinnell and Emma Hardy
Baker Dearing Chief Executive Simon Connell speaking with Labour shadow ministers Catherine McKinnell MP and Emma Hardy MP.

Skills minister praises programme

Following the conference, many of the attendees moved to the Houses of Parliament for the reception hosted by Baker Dearing’s Chairman Lord Baker.

During the event, Lord Baker presented students who had been recognised by their UTC for outstanding achievement after achieving the Gold Baker Award, which awards students who have demonstrated excellence in technical learning.

The full list of recipients is as follows:

  • Samuel Copley, The Leigh UTC
  • Smaran Holkar, The Leigh UTC
  • Liam Quigg, Thomas Telford UTC
  • Sarina Mattu, Thomas Telford UTC
  • Kade Rudley, UTC Leeds
  • Kara Rudley, UTC Leeds
  • Henry Leadbeater-Hart, UTC Oxfordshire
  • Kit Ellis, UTC Oxfordshire
  • Jakub Wlazinski, UTC Warrington
  • Lewis Booth, UTC Warrington

Robert Halfon MP also spoke at the event, saying to the audience of UTC leaders and stakeholders: “You increase the prestige of vocational and technical education. For far too long in this country, for some reason, people who do technical education were seen as lesser than those who do academic study.

“Nothing could be further from the truth and you guys are delivering the skills that our country needs.”

Lord Baker presents Thomas Telford UTC leaver Sarina Mattu with her certificate for outstanding achievement in the Gold Baker Award.