Closing the Gap Between Vocational and General Education? Evidence from University Technical Colleges in England

Discussion Paper

Stephen Machin, Sandra McNally, Camille Terrier, and Guglielmo Ventura

February 2023

Delivery of vocational education in schools is a controversial issue around the world and attempts to improve it have been tried for decades. A substantive innovation in vocational education provision came about in 2010 in England when a new form of hybrid schools was introduced that combine general and vocational education: University Technical Colleges (UTCs). This paper adopts an instrumental variable approach to evaluate the causal effect of attending a UTC on academic and vocational education, and on student short-term workforce outcomes. The research design takes advantage of geographic and cross-cohort variation in exposure to UTCs, and of different enrolment ages. For pupils entering UTCs at the unconventional age 14, enrolment in these schools dramatically reduces academic achievement on national exams at age 16. By contrast, for students who enter at the conventional age of 16, UTCs boost vocational achievement without harming academic achievement. UTCs also improve achievement in STEM qualifications, enrolment in apprenticeships, employment prospects (by age 19) and probability of going on to study STEM at university. The paper concludes that there has been both promise and disappointment in what the technical education offered by these new forms of hybrid schools has delivered to date. These mixed conclusions are important for refining the design of school based vocational education around the world.