Laura Mcinerney

Technical hitch

They’re hailed as the future of vocational learning... but some have run into trouble

Godwin’s law says that the longer an internet discussion continues, the more likely it is that a Nazism analogy will be used. Grammar school debates have their own law. At some point someone will say: ‘Grammars are fine, but do you also want more secondary moderns?’

It’s a fair point. At the height of their popularity, grammars gave an elite education to around 25 per cent of the population who passed the 11+ exam. Secondary moderns took in the remaining 75 per cent and typically struggled for it. Highly qualified teachers flock to schools with the smartest children. Poorer children, meanwhile, congregate in secondary moderns, and come with a higher likelihood of other issues: poor behaviour, malnutrition, and troubled families. (A stereotype, but borne out by data.) With equal funding, grammars flew: their results brilliant, their pupils off to university. Secondary moderns, meanwhile, became a byword for ‘sink school’.

There are fewer grammars now, and the remaining secondary moderns work hard for their pupils, but their lower results and inspection grades reveal their difficulties. So if grammars make a comeback, it is fair to ask what happens to everyone else. Now, grammar advocates have an answer: UTCs.

University Technology Colleges — UTCs for short — are schools for 14- to 19-year-olds, specialising in a vocation or trade while still delivering a broadly academic curriculum. Elstree UTC, for example, is attached to Elstree Studios, birthplace of Star Wars. Pupils study English, maths and science GCSEs, alongside a suite of specialist qualifications — photo-graphy, graphics, film studies. Pupils also spend a portion of time each week in hands-on activities.

Less glitz, more grunt is the JCB Academy — the first UTC — opened in Staffordshire in 2010 and specialising in engineering. Alongside their typical GCSEs, pupils study for an engineering qualification, encompassing systems control and manufacturing.

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