Revealed: UTC attainment gap for pre and post-16s

14-year-olds at UTCs get worse GCSEs than peers, but 16-year-olds outperform in skills and technical education

Kate Parker

UTCs: Contrast in pre-16 and post-16 provision revealed

A stark contrast between pre-16 and post-16 attainment at University Technical Colleges (UTCs) has been revealed today. 

Research published by the London School of Economics found that, while 14-year-olds who enrol at a UTC get significantly worse GCSE results than their peers, 16-year-olds who enrol at a UTC out-perform their peers in skills and technical education. 

LSE’s Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER) found that students who enrol in UTCs at age 14 are 26 percentage points less likely to get at least five good GCSE grades than similar students who are not in UTCs.

However, the picture is different for older students.

Sixteen-year-olds enrolled at UTCs have the same probability of achieving at least one A level as their peers elsewhere – and are more likely to enter and achieve a technical qualification at level 3. 


Background: 30 UTCs to be in MATs within a year

More: UTCs: Half full, closing down and underperforming

Opinion: Why do over 16s perform at UTCs, but under 15s don't?


The research also found that, by the age of 19, UTC students who joined at 16 were less likely to be NEET (not in education, employment or training).

UTC students are also more likely to study science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects at university than their peers.

The report says revisiting the age at which students move to UTCs – currently age 14 – needs serious policy consideration. 

Dr Camille Terrier, research associate at the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP), LSE, said that switching school between Year 9 and 10 could explain the lower outcomes for 14-year-olds.

She said: “Switching school between Year 9 and Year 10 may disrupt students’ preparation for GCSEs, given a growing number of schools are starting GCSE preparations in Year 9. Newly opened institutions might also not be the best place to help struggling students when staff have little knowledge of the pupils’ background.”

'Early days in UTC's lifetimes'

UTCs were first introduced in 2010 and have attracted a lot of controversy so far. In October 2019, a National Audit Office investigation highlighted concerns about the viability and standards in many institutions and found that at the time, UTCS were less than half full and were underperforming compared with other secondaries. 

In March 2020, former Department for Education permanent secretary Jonathan Slater said that around 30 University Technical Colleges (UTCs) will be part of a multi-academy trust (MAT) in the next year. 

Guglielmo Ventura, CVER research associate, said that it was “early days in the lifetime of University Technical Colleges”.

He said: “More UTCs are moving to recruitment at a natural transition point (at age 11 as well as age 16), which might improve their performance to the extent that they become better able to attract a higher attaining group of applicants. Our results also indicate that UTCs improve with time, which suggests caution in forming quick judgements about the long-term efficacy of the policy.”

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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