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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Government’s flagship 14-19 schools and colleges struggle to recruit girls and high achievers

New IPPR research reveals educational backgrounds of the young people enrolling in the Government’s new flagship vocational institutions

New research from IPPR uncovers the typical students who attend the government’s new University Technical Colleges (UTCs), studio schools and 14-19 free schools.

The Government has pledged to open at least one in every area and hopes that the new institutions will open up new high quality technical education for young people. However, critics claim the institutions risk being only seen as an option for lower achievers and that by forcing young people to choose at 14 the specific path they wish to take they could close down their options for later success.

IPPR’s new research aims to add some hard evidence to the debate on their impact.

The first briefing on IPPR's work published today (Friday) looks at the type of pupils enrolling:

  • They are disproportionately male (68 per cent);
  • They are more likely to have lower attainment at primary schools and to have ‘under progressed’ between the ages of 7 and 11;
  • Based on their attainment at primary school, they are predicted to achieve GCSE grades below the national average.

The research also shows that many of the institutions are failing to recruit sufficient number of pupils, and are operating significantly under capacity.

Jonathan Clifton, IPPR associate director for public services, said:

“As the government are continuing to expand university technical colleges, studio schools and 14-19 free schools, we need to better understand which students are enrolling and how the they are working in practice.

“The Government have made these new 14-19 institutions the centre piece of their promise to deliver world-class vocational education for young people from all kinds of backgrounds.

“However our research shows that if it wants to make good on this promise and fill the many empty places that exist it will need to work out how it makes these new schools and colleges much more attractive to a wider range of students, especially young women.”

This research was funded by The Nuffield Foundation, an endowed charitable trust that aims to improve social well-being in the widest sense.



Kieren Walters, [email protected], 07921 403651
Sofie Jenkinson, [email protected], 07981 023031

Editor’s notes:

  1. Embargoed advance copies of 'Transitions at 14 - Analysing the intake of 14-19 education institutions' are available to the media by emailing [email protected]
  1. The establishment of these schools and colleges was made possible by the 2010 Academies Act and then in 2015 the Conservatives included a manifesto pledge to continue their expansion and make sure at least on University Technical Colleges is in reach of every city.
  2. The Nuffield Foundation funds research and innovation in education and social policy and also works to build capacity in education, science and social science research.

    The Nuffield Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation. More information is available at
  3. IPPR aims to influence policy in the present and reinvent progressive politics in the future, and is dedicated to the better country that Britain can be through progressive policy and politics. With nearly 60 staff across four offices throughout the UK, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.

    Our independent research is wide ranging, it covers the economy, work, skills, transport, democracy, the environment, education, energy, migration and healthcare among many other areas.