University Technical Colleges (UTCs) are a newcomer to the educational landscape, and we are aware that there some misconceptions about them. Our colleges have been set up by employers seeking a pipeline of new talent with the work-place skills, industry knowledge and technical experience required. Government funded, UTCs offer a real alternative to the traditional education system that exists by allowing students to have an active role in choosing their future.

Since opening the doors to our £10m college in September 2016, UTC Warrington recognises there are some common misconceptions around what we and other UTCs provide for young people.

To provide a clear perspective into the exciting STEM pathways available at UTCW, we have put together this Myth Buster to help answer your questions.

UTCs are not suitable for high achieving academic students.

Our students have gone on to study high quality STEM degrees in some of the UK’s leading universities, including Manchester, Southampton and Lancaster, alongside those graduates have secured STEM apprenticeships with companies including Wood Plc, Cavendish Nuclear, Nuvia and Kier Construction.

At UTCW, all of our students complete GCSEs that include Maths, English, Science and a range of high quality engineering subjects that are shaped around employer demand – Design, Manufacture, and Construction and Built Environment. At Sixth Form, students choose a specialist technical pathway that has been tailored by STEM employers to offer the academic and technical knowledge, alongside the professional confidence to equip graduates for University or a high quality apprenticeship.

Ofsted: “Students’ progress in academic and technical subjects has improved over the three years since the college opened. As elsewhere in the college, teaching is well planned. This leads to students’ strong progress. Students do particularly well in technical subjects. They show strong commitment to preparing themselves for their future careers or for higher education. The proportion leaving to take up higher apprenticeships is above the national average.” Ofsted, 2019

UTC graduates will struggle to find work.

Destinations (young people going on to meaningful next steps and careers) are the reasons for UTCs existing.  This focused approach to education was set up by employers and is common in the North West of England. Students, parents, and employers say that  young people leave UTC with strong workplace skills and a confidence that sets them up for future careers.

100% of our Year 11 leavers have a positive destination in education, employment or training with an above national take up of apprenticeship (7.41% compared to 6% nationally)

For our Year 13 leavers, over half secured Apprenticeships or employment, covering a wide range of sectors (including Nuclear Engineering, Manufacturing, Civil Engineering). The percentage of students securing a high quality apprenticeship (higher or advanced) is over five times the national average.

Ofsted: “Leaders also place great importance on ensuring that pupils are well prepared to start a STEM-related or other career when they eventually leave the college. In 2018, all pupils who left the college moved on to suitable continuing educational provision or employment, including apprenticeships. The proportion of pupils taking up apprenticeships and higher apprenticeships after leaving the college is significantly higher than that seen nationally.” Ofsted, 2019.

UTC staff are ‘not proper teachers.’

Not only are the UTC’s teachers trained and qualified, they bring with them a wealth of industry-background and teaching experience. We are proud of our staff team; our parents say that teachers go above and beyond to help the students follow their aspirations and bring their careers to life both during the UTC curriculum and when they leave us.

With a smaller staff and student cohort, we build strong and positive relationships with our students. We have a dedicated pastoral team who oversee the welfare, development and progress of each student, and our teaching staff understand the strengths and barriers of each individual which creates a personalised learning experience.

Ofsted: “Teachers are knowledgeable about their subjects. This gives pupils confidence. It also allows teachers to ask relevant questions skilfully, in order to develop pupils’ understanding. Pupils are known very well by teachers and staff.” Ofsted, 2019.

UTC students are poorly behaved. 

This is not true. We have a robust behaviour policy that reflects the world of work and industry, which sees students given verbal and written warnings before being removed from routine lessons if they are persistently disruptive. Our parents and students say that this makes a more positive learning environment and greater progress is made in lessons.

Traditionally, careers in engineering and technology have been viewed as male-dominated. At UTCW, we work closely with our partner organisations to support female engagement in STEM, including specialist trips and lectures and our Women in STEM Events that are aimed at inspiring the UTC’s female students.

Ofsted: “Pupils pay attention in class and behave respectfully towards their teachers and each other. Pupils commented to inspectors that their good behaviour helps all to learn. Pupils move around the building sensibly. The college has a calm and hard-working atmosphere.” Ofsted, 2019.

Moving to the UTC is a bad decision. 

Students benefit from regular input and mentoring by local employers and Higher Education partners, as well as an opportunity to focus on specialist subjects that they are passionate about.

14 is the typical age that students start their GCSEs. We believe young people are mature enough to understand what pathway they want to follow. By opting for focused STEM qualifications at UTCW, students benefit from a wealth of industry expertise, outstanding facilities and a strong rapport with the region’s leading business leaders.

Those who join us in Year 10 come from a number of different schools around Warrington and local towns. Our personal development programme brings students from all backgrounds together in a professional learning environment.

Ofsted: “Pupils are motivated by the curriculum and how learning is organised. The college is effective in helping them to understand what attitudes they need to be successful in their learning. Pupils’ positive attitudes to their learning are sometimes very different from the negative approach to education that they had before they joined the college. Year 10 pupils’ workbooks in English provide evidence of how pupils have changed their attitudes, from only being prepared to put in minimal effort, to being determined to present high-quality work.” Ofsted, 2019.

UTC qualifications are less valued than others.

Students who join us in Year 10 complete core national curriculum subjects, alongside technical specialisms such as Computer Science, Engineering Design and Engineering Manufacture. This offer has been developed with leading university and employer partners who are seeking a bespoke workforce with specific technical knowledge and skills.

At sixth form, our BTEC pathways mix technical learning with traditional academic subjects such as A Level Maths and Physics. In 2018, 100% of students who completed their BTEC Level 3 Engineering qualification passed and the average grade was a ‘distinction’. You can read more about our alumni on our dedicated alumni page. 

Ofsted: “Leaders ensure that students develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours that will support them in their future studies or careers. The sixth-form curriculum is tightly focused on STEM subjects, in order to meet the needs of employers and students. Leaders ensure that the sixth-form curriculum is evolving to meet these needs.” Ofsted, 2019.

The UTC curriculum is too specialist. 

Whilst Engineering is one of the UK’s broadest sectors and employees in the industry can be some of the highest earners, UTC Warrington does not solely focus on one branch STEM subjects.

UTC’s are designed to build expertise in subject areas and our curriculum and business partners aren’t just from the Engineering sector. Students can opt to focus on science subjects at sixth form or study some of our technology courses that create our Cyber Pathways for Year 10 and Year 12 students.

Alongside prominent employer support from each sector, our students receive a well-rounded view into the future potential opportunities of employment, apprenticeships or continued study in the field of STEM.

Ofsted: “The curriculum is very well matched to the particular focus of the college. Pupils in both key stage 4 and the sixth form are offered clear sets of subjects that relate to different STEM areas. In key stage 4, all students study a core of English language and literature, mathematics and science. Their particular interests and aspirations are catered for in other subjects. This allows for specialism in engineering, the built environment and cyber computing. These other subjects are often taught through practical activities. They are linked to, and enriched by, planned links and visits to and from local employers. A similar approach is adopted in the sixth form. Leaders ensure that the curriculum evolves to meet local employment needs.” Ofsted, 2019.

Other FAQs

What are the advantages of going to a UTC instead of staying at their previous school?

Students benefit from regular input and mentoring by local employers and universities and can study  subjects they are passionate about, in a high quality facility that reflects the real work place, with teachers who have practical industry experience.

Why join the UTC at the age of 14?

11 is too early to choose a subject path to follow and by the time students are 16, if they know what they want to do, they often become bored at school and so underachieve. At 14, students can benefit from a more mature learning environment, specialist qualifications, and a unique learning experience.

What makes the UTC different?

Employers and Higher Education partners shape the curriculum and direction of the college. Our students benefit from that wealth of expertise in and outside of the classroom, alongside regular business project days, employer mentoring, work placements, enrichment opportunities and personal development experiences.

Why a UTC in Warrington?

A 2012 skills report highlighted a skills gap in school leavers, leading to local STEM employers developing a University Technical College in the town. Warrington is home to one of the UK’s largest nuclear engineering hubs in Birchwood Park and there are many opportunities within the STEM sector across the wider North West. There is also a  nationally recognised need for skills and career opportunities in a raft of specialisms offering fantastic routes for all young people.

Will free school meals continue to be available?

All students eligible for free school meals will retain their entitlement.

Does the UTC have a dedicated team of staff to support students?

The UTC has staff with expertise in special needs and additional support. As part of the transition process, we work closely with all schools involved to ensure a smooth transition to UTCW. Each student is assigned a PAT Tutor who works closely with the Progress Leader and Assistant Principal for Inclusion.

Does the current school need to be informed a student is leaving?

Once you have formally applied to the UTC and you have been offered a place, we will work closely with local schools to ensure a smooth transition. This will include meeting with pastoral leaders so that we can ensure any support required is in place.

Are there any entry requirements?

The UTC is open to students of all abilities. In Year 10, there are no formal entry requirements but an interest in Engineering, Science and Technology would be beneficial.

In Year 12, our BTEC pathways require a minimum of 5 GCSEs Grade 4 or above. For A Level subjects, a Grade 6 will be required.