Wilshaw warns UTCs are fighting for their survival

University technical colleges serve an important role but must ‘radically improve’, the head of Ofsted says

Sir Michael Wilshaw has said that university technical colleges must “radically improve” if they are to survive.

The head of Ofsted criticised UTCs before adding that they had a vital role to play in offering students an alternative to the purely academic route favoured by the government.

His comments came as he took another swipe at the government’s push for the majority of pupils to sit GCSEs in the core academic subjects that make up the English Baccalaureate (EBacc).

Speaking at the Baker Dearing UTC conference in central London, the 68-year-old said the government’s path risked leaving some young people “demotivated”. But he warned that leaders of the programme needed to significantly improve if they were to continue to offer young people a technical curriculum rather than the more academic EBacc.

“If the UTC movement is to survive and prosper, then radical improvement is necessary,” Sir Michael said. “If this doesn’t happen, politicians will come to the conclusion that the model is flawed and not worthy of further political or financial support.”

Technical curriculum vital for some

Sir Michael described the government’s ambition for more students to study the EBacc as “laudable”, but said some pupils “will respond better to a technical curriculum”.

“Even when I was head at Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, which had a great academic reputation, 20 per cent of students always failed to reach our targets,” he said. “The consequences of an inflexible curriculum are plain to see. We see it in the demotivated youngsters who leave school with few relevant qualifications and an antipathy to learning. We see it in the ranks of the unskilled unemployed.”

Last month’s Brexit decision meant there was an even greater urgency to develop a “better” technical curriculum to equip young people with the skills needed by businesses in the future, the former headteacher claimed.

UTCs would have a huge part to play to fill the skills gap as industry would no longer be able to rely on importing skilled workers from “Eastern Europe and elsewhere”, he said.

It is not the first time that Sir Michael, who will be stepping down as from his role at the inspectorate in December, has spoken of his concern about the government’s decision to force the vast majority of secondary students to take the EBacc.

In September last year he told TES that the EBacc policy would be a “problem” for some students.

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