Apprenticeships and skills minister Robert Halfon has dubbed the University Technical College programme “excellent”, despite ten per cent of the 14 to 19 institutions closing just six years since they were first introduced.
In his first major speech in his current role, Mr Halfon told the audience of the Edge Foundation Annual lecture: “I actually love UTCs … I think UTCs are incredible.”
Speaking at Westminster Kingsway College today (October 19), Mr Halfon said he disagreed with the comments made yesterday in a Times article, entitled ‘Technical colleges flop as they fail to recruit pupils’.
He said: “The Times in my view has got it utterly wrong.
“If you just judge a school by its exams results – fine. But what you should judge a school by is the destination and whether people get jobs and skills afterwards.”
The Times’ article echoed FE Week findings from October 7, which showed that more than 10 per cent of university technical colleges are now expected to close, only six years since the first was opened.
The latest to close its doors will be Royal Greenwich UTC in London, which Greenwich Council is converting into a secondary school at a cost of £13m.
Royal Greenwich UTC will become Greenwich Trust School from next September, just two years after it opened as a 14-to-19 institute.
FE Week analysis in February showed that the college, which has a capacity of 600, had just 257 students during the last academic year – representing a 35 per cent drop from the 397 who attended in 2014-15.
Its closure marked the fifth UTC out of 48 to shut up shop since they were launched in 2010.
Our February investigation discovered that student numbers had fallen at 40 per cent of UTCs that opened between 2010 and 2013.
The Department for Education meanwhile confirmed last month that a proposed UTC developed in partnership with Burton and South Derbyshire College would not now open, despite the £8m the government had already spent setting it up.
Just last week, Heathrow Aviation Engineering UTC was issued a financial notice to improve due to an “apparent loss of financial control”.
The UTC, which opened in north London in September 2014, has a 600-pupil capacity, but just 231 on roll as of January.
Despite these findings, Mr Halfon commented that he welcomes the work of Lord Baker, one of the founders of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust which promotes UTCs, and added that although the UTC programme “will take time” it will “show clear benefits to students in the long term”.
He admitted, however, that UTCs “can be improved”, and said that work is being done to achieve this change.
Mr Halfon kept is focus on the destinations of UTC students, which he described as “an extraordinary result”.
He said: “Over the past year, just 0.5 per cent people who have left UTCs are – in fact I hate this word – so called ‘NEETs’.
“And 44 percent have gone on to university, 28 per cent have gone on to apprenticeship and many have done to do other things. 17 per cent I think have gone into work.
“It’s an extraordinary result if you look at it in terms of destination.”
When questioned about the problems with student recruitment in UTCs by FE Week editor Nick Linford, Mr Halfon stressed that “there are over 40 UTC colleges still”.
Responding during a question and answer session after his lecture, he said: “Lord Baker is very passionate about education starting at 14 – I am looking at that.
“There is another UTC minister as you know, Lord Nash, who looks at these things.”
He added: “My view is that we look at what works, and then take the evidence from that.”