A-level results day: ‘It’s what follows that matters’

UTC students always do well – but sadly, that's not reflected in league tables or Progress 8 scores, says this principal

Cherry Tingle

A level results day: It's what followers that matters

When it comes to exam results, it’s been the same story for a while now. Year after year we have seen languages, arts and alike subjects lose ground to the big three: maths, English and science. 

Many young people get outstanding results in engineering, welding and construction, and yet their achievements go almost unnoticed.

At Energy Coast UTC in Cumbria, we take students from Year 10 and work them hard. Our students put in long days, from 8.30am to 4 or 5pm, with the option to stay until 6pm for students who need extra sessions or want to pick up different options. They study for GCSEs in English language, English literature, maths, chemistry, biology and physics and one option which might be geography, history, sport, ICT or business studies. These basics are important.

News: 'Proper recognition' pledged for vocational education

Background: DfE to reduce Progress 8 pressure on UTCs

Comment: 'Let's replace GCSEs and A levels with a diploma'

Life-changing moments 

In addition, they do three engineering qualifications: level 2 design engineer construct (DEC) – a civil engineering qualification, a level 2 BTEC in engineering and a level 2 practical apprenticeship diploma in performing engineering operations (PEO). This might include preparing and using CNC lathes, assembling pipework systems, preparing and using manual oxy-fuel gas welding equipment.

They also have another subject that we consider vital: employability. Exam results are not the only focus of our curriculum. We want our students to go out of the door into work, an apprenticeship or on to a university degree course, so part of their week is spent gaining experience working on real projects in a local engineering company such as Morgan Sindall Infrastructure.

One student, Callum, came to us in Year 10. After key stage 3 he wasn’t expected to get good results, but his work experience employer gave him every encouragement and he got 10 really good GCSE qualifications. Callum has just done A levels in engineering, maths and physics and is taking up the offer of a degree-level apprenticeship at Sellafield.

Sadly, life-changing moments like these aren’t reflected in exam league tables – many of the subjects our students study don’t count in the government’s performance tables.

Progress 8 and Ofsted 

Similarly, we don’t show up well on Progress 8. The government is looking for progress from the end of Year 6 to the end of Year 11 in a restricted range of subjects. We can prove almost three grades' progress in two years across all subjects, 3.5 in technical subjects, 3.0 grades progression in English but we only have the students for two of those years and cover a different curriculum.

Ofsted judged us as "outstanding" in all categories in their inspection in June 2019 and actually, their comments didn’t just focus on Progress 8 and EBacc. “[Pupils] have had first-rate careers guidance and many excellent opportunities to develop high-quality skills, which makes them very employable,” they said. “Pupils leaving the UTC are exceptionally well prepared for the next stages in education, employment and training.”

Grace is an example of this. She came to us as a school refuser with very poor results. Both parents were unemployed. In fact, there was little history of employment in any part of her family. She’s just finished sixth form studying double A-level engineering and business studies. She has a distinction in engineering and the offer of a place at Newcastle University to study mechanical engineering plus two other offers for degree apprenticeships.

Good luck to all those young people who will be receiving their results today and next week, but remember, exam grades are just one step on the ladder. It is what follows that really matters.

Cherry Tingle is the principal of Energy Coast University Technical College in Cumbria

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