As well as offering strong employer and university engagement and a focus on STEM subjects, the other big difference between UTCs and most other secondary schools is that our students join at the age of 14.
Indeed, as do schools in many other parts of the world, UTCs start at age 14 for a very good reason: to ensure that young people do not disengage from their studies during the critical final two years of a traditional 11-16 education. This is a well-known problem, resulting in too many pupils completing their education at 16 without the qualifications they need to succeed in life. For example, about 1 in 3 pupils do not achieve a ‘Pass’ in both English and maths GCSEs, which is truly shocking.
Of course at age 14 young people are beginning to identify their own interests. Starting at this age enables UTCs to offer a choice of courses (such as engineering and digital focus) alongside the core subjects, without the constraints imposed by government policy (such as the requirement to study a language or certain humanities). By taking courses more closely linked to their future careers and of a practical and technical nature, students remain more keenly engaged in their studies; UTC learners can see the purpose behind their education.
Starting at 14 years of age also creates a ‘fresh start’ for many of our students. They welcome the smaller school environment, the chance to make new friends, and the commitment of teaching staff who understand their needs and have the time to support them. Too often we hear from our new joiners that one of their motivations for starting at the UTC was the second-rate educational experience they had at their previous school. It’s not just our students that tell us this: Ofsted, the school’s regulator, has observed this, as well. The following is taken from one of their reports, written last year:
“Many pupils start at [the UTC] disillusioned with what they have achieved in their Key Stage 3 education at other schools. Some are resentful about schooling. Through excellent support and guidance, staff transform the negative attitudes of these pupils in a remarkably short period of time.”
There are many more examples of this transformation across the UTC programme. Furthermore, the Department for Education has conducted its own internal analysis, which shows that students joining UTCs at 14 achieve superior leaver destinations at 16 years of age than would be expected had they remained at their previous school.
Most importantly, we hear positive feedback from our students. Nearly all of them, when surveyed, describe their UTC as a positive and supportive place to study, with teachers who care about their welfare and personal development.
Whether it is the small school environment, the opportunity for a fresh start, the chance to study technical courses at GCSE not available at other schools, a more relevant and engaging approach to learning, or enhanced employability, all are excellent reasons to join a UTC at 14 years of age.