University technical colleges Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.UTCs have struggled to attract enough students and three-quarters are less than 60% full. At January 2019, the 48 open UTCs were operating at 45% of capacity on average, with 13,572 students in total compared with a maximum capacity of 29,934. Just two UTCs were full or virtually full, and three-quarters had occupancy rates of less than 60%. The Department explained the steps it has taken to improve the information provided to parents about UTCs. These include since 2017 requiring local authorities to write to the parents of prospective pupils about their options. In addition, since January 2018, secondary schools that are not UTCs have had a statutory duty to provide their pupils with information about neighbouring UTCs. The Department has written to five multi-academy trusts that have failed to comply with this duty. Most students at UTCs are boys – at January 2019, 72% of UTC students were male, compared with 50% in all secondary academies and free schools. This is disappointing given the ambition for more girls to study STEM subjects and the focus of UTCs on technology.

Recommendation: The Department should work with those UTCs that have higher occupancy levels to identify and share lessons and good practice for other UTCs that are struggling to attract students.

2.The lack of students has meant the Department has been propping up the finances of UTCs for several years, and most of the extra funding will not be paid back. Because the funding that schools receive is mainly based on student numbers, UTCs’ failure to recruit enough students has damaged their financial viability. In 2017/18, 14 UTC academy trusts reported cumulative revenue deficits totalling £7.7 million, representing nearly 10% of the deficits of the 195 academy trusts that reported deficits. The Department has provided extra funding to support UTCs’ financial position totalling £36.8 million between 2015–16 and 2018–19, most of which will not be paid back. As part of this, it has given every UTC transitional funding, which is not available to other schools. Transitional funding has usually been £200,000 per year, but will reduce to £100,000 in 2020–21 and then stop. The Department asserts that it has been tough on UTCs in recent years, providing support to viable UTCs on the basis of clear three-year plans and closing those that are unsustainable. However, the Department is a long way from achieving its aim, by summer 2020, of improving the financial performance of UTCs.

Recommendation: The Department should set clear three-year financial targets for each UTC. At the end of the three-year period, it should be prepared to close UTCs that are not meeting those targets.

3.The Department has still not defined what success looks like for UTCs as distinct from other secondary schools. The Department’s view is that standard exam-based measures of educational performance are not appropriate for UTCs given UTCs’ age range and technical focus. It regards student destinations as a better metric but has not adjusted its performance framework to reflect this view or to indicate how the success of UTCs should be judged. The Baker Dearing Educational Trust collects information on destinations as students leave their UTC and therefore has data for students who left in summer 2019. In contrast, the Department publishes data on student destinations sustained over a period of time, which are therefore lagged with the most recent available data relating to students who left in 2016/17. Both datasets show that, compared with other secondary schools, a higher proportion of UTC students go into apprenticeships. However, most of these apprenticeships are at levels 2 and 3, equivalent to GCSEs and A levels, rather than at a higher level. The Department has committed to look at how information is presented to consider whether it could make more prominent on its website the warning that the educational performance of UTCs should be measured differently from other secondary schools.

Recommendation: The Department should, within three months, write to us to explain how it uses data on student destinations to track the performance of UTCs, and what steps it will take to better inform parents about how they can use these data to assess the benefits of a UTC education.

4.We are concerned that the Department could not tell us what schools get in return for the £10,000 annual licence fee they pay to the Baker Dearing Educational Trust. The Department invited applications to set up UTCs between 2011 and 2015 and paid £893,000 to the Trust between 2012/13 and 2017/18 to support sponsors planning to open new UTCs. As the Trust owns the UTC brand, a school must have a licence to operate as a UTC and pay an annual fee to the Trust. The Trust increased the fee from £5,500 to £10,000 in 2019/20. The Department regards the decision to pay for a licence, and any assessment of the value received in return, as matters for individual UTCs not the Department. We are concerned by the Department’s apparent lack of interest in the value for money that schools are getting from using taxpayer’s money to pay the licence fee for a particular model of school on top of the already generous funding that the Department gave to the Trust.

Recommendation: The Department should work with UTCs to obtain the information necessary to gain assurance about the value schools are getting from the licence fee they pay to the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, and write to us with its findings within three months.

Published: 10 June 2020