£180 million for Baker's colleges

Janet Downs's picture
Lord Baker, who was Secretary of State for Education from 1986 to 1989, has been received £180 million from the Government for his scheme to establish a chain of 24 University Technology Colleges (UTCs) which will provide technical education to 14-19 years olds. Lord Baker is a great supporter of vocational education and he should be applauded for this. However, an editorial in FEfocus says that he “stands accused of wanting to recreate past divisions in education”. Lord Baker wants UTC pupils to study a new exam, the TechBac, which will have a technical bias : “German for engineering, not Goethe; the history of invention, not battles.”

However, Professor Wolf , the author of the Government’s review of vocational education, opposes the TechBac because it might be perceived as inferior to academic qualifications. It could also encourage selection at age 14 as teenagers who felt they could not achieve the EBac would opt for an easier alternative. The FEfocus editorial also warns that if the TechBac is confined to UTCs, then few people would know of its existence. If such an examination is to be credible then it would need to be nearly universal. In particular, it would need support from further education colleges.

Lord Baker introduced City Technology Colleges when he was Secretary of State for Education. His UTC project seems to be an extension of his own education policy and he is being bankrolled by the government to pursue his ideas. However, the award of £180 million for his pet project when the Government is supposed to be saving money is indefensible. £180 million is one-third of the cost (£560 million) of providing the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) which the Government has abolished. The EMA helped thousands of students – Lord Baker’s UTCs will benefit only a small number, if at all.
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