Call to let UTCs and studio schools select

Toby Young says pupils should 'not be herded into UTCs because they lack the ability to cope with academic subjects'

Tes Reporter

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Technical schools should be allowed to select their students to address the UK's skills shortages after Brexit and stop them becoming "dumping grounds" for those who struggle academically, a new report suggests.

There is a "Gordian Knot linking technical education to academic failure" that needs to be broken, according to controversial educationalist and former government adviser Toby Young.

In a report for the Centre for Policy Studies thinktank, he argues that University Technical Colleges (UTCs) and studio schools for students aged 14-19 should be given the power to select pupils based on "aptitude for their occupational specialisms".

Mr Young said: "The growing skills gap in the UK means there are projected to be an additional 3.6 million vacancies in skilled occupations by 2022.

"This is in large part because we still think of technical and vocational education as a second best 'alternative pathway' for students who cannot cope with academic subjects.

"If Britain is to prosper after we've left the European Union, we must break the Gordian Knot linking technical education to academic failure and allow UTCs and studio schools to select pupils according to aptitude for their occupational specialisms at the age of 14.

"Children should be selected for these schools because they have a particular gift for this type of education, not herded into them because they lack the ability to cope with academic subjects."

Mr Young is a journalist and free school founder who resigned as a board member of the new Office for Students in January after details emerged of a string of controversial comments he had made on social media.

The report, entitled Technically Gifted, is released today and is endorsed by Nick Timothy, a former chief of staff to Theresa May and an enthusiastic supporter of grammar schools.

The report says that since 2010, 118 technical and vocational schools have been set up, but with a few exceptions they have "not been successful".

It says 36 of them have already either been closed, converted into other types of schools or are earmarked for closure.

This, it adds, has "caused embarrassment to successive governments, undermined the credibility of the education reform programme that these schools are linked with, and harmed the life chances of the students consigned to them".

Mr Young also argues that new schools modelled on the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology in South London and the digital and creative arts-focused Birmingham Ormiston Academy could be set up in other cities without the need for new legislation, saying: "A policy change by the secretary of state for education would suffice."

In his foreword to the report, Mr Timothy said that the new technical T levels due to be introduced from 2020 were being brought in "too slowly" and "far more must be done if we are to have the kind of technical education the country needs".

He added: "Young people should be encouraged to study technical subjects, and not only when teachers judge that they are not equipped for a purely academic education.

"For that to happen, a new generation of prestigious schools – selecting their pupils by aptitude, specialising in technical subjects, and still offering a core of academic subjects - can lead the way."

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