As a second UTC announces closure, are UTCs expensive white elephants?

Janet Downs's picture
The Black Country UTC will close in August citing ‘financial challenges’. Its pupils will have to be found places in other Walsall schools. A shocked parent told ITV News Central that parents had been told only last month the UTC ‘was doing well and moving to a multi million pound new building [in] 2016’.

This is the second university technology college to announce closure. Hackney UTC will shut its doors in August after receiving only 29 applications for September 2014 out of a target of 75.

It appears UTCs are not recruiting as many pupils as needed in order to be viable. Even the JCB Academy, Staffordshire, which began in 2010 has not reached its full capacity of 728. It has just 433 students*.

UTCs take students from Year 10 to Year 13. Those opened in 2013 should, therefore, be half full by now having recruited students in 2013 and 2014. But many are not. Buckinghamshire UTC and Daventry UTC both have room for 600 pupils but have only 92* and 96* respectively. Visions Learning Trust UTC, Burnley, has just 73* students in a college with capacity for 800. Another UTC with room for 800 students, Liverpool Life Sciences, is doing better – after two intakes it has 181* students.

The idea behind UTCs might appear to be offering an alternative but the concept is flawed. Removing pupils from secondary schools at age 14 disrupts their education and steers them towards a particular career too early. And the promised focus on employment in particular jobs might not be adequate. One Black Country UTC student told ITV he had ‘received no practical training’ in engineering – his chosen career. And Ofsted found sixth-form students at the Central Bedfordshire UTC were ‘not following a sufficiently rounded curriculum to support their future choices’ although the ‘excellent resources’ and ‘high quality technical equipment’ enabled students to gain good practical skills.

Too few UTCs have been inspected to date. Two, JCB Academy and Aston University Engineering Academy have been judged Good; the two which are to close, Black Country UTC and Hackney UTC both Require Improvement; and Central Bedfordshire UTC was Inadequate.

Thirteen more UTCs opened in September 2014, eleven are planned for 2015, fifteen for 2016 and five for 2017. Yet education budgets face a real cut in coming years. The two major parties, the Conservatives and Labour, are committed to the UTC initiative. In such times, it is not acceptable to spend money on UTCs when their future recruitment is uncertain and two are already closing.

*Figures from Edubase

EXTRA 13.15. Last September, Schools Week found on average the 17 already open UTCs were struggling to reach 30% capacity.
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