Gove seeks college help after latest UTC blow

  • Education Secretary Gove asks Bedford College to save UTC
  • All Ofsted UTC results inadequate or requires improvement
  • ‘Too early to critisize UTC programme’ — UTCs’ spokesperson

 

Education Secretary Michael Gove has called on a general FE college in Bedfordshire to save the latest University Technical College (UTC) to suffer Ofsted grading disappointment.

A spokesperson for Bedford College said it was stepping in at the request of Mr Gove at the inadequate-rated Central Bedfordshire UTC — the third UTC to have been inspected.

The Black Country UTC was given a grade three rating last year and Hackney UTC got one in February, while the remaining 14 UTCs are yet to be inspected.

A spokesperson for the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, which oversees the establishment of UTCs, said: “This Ofsted judgment [of Central Bedfordshire UTC] does not apply to the whole UTC programme.

“UTCs are a new provision, 17 are open across England, most of which opened in 2013 so there is limited data on performance. It is too early to criticise the UTC programme.”

Inspectors criticised the quality of leadership, governance, teaching and the curriculum at Central Bedfordshire UTC, and said learning was “not secure” because teachers “do not always check students’ understanding or how well they have developed skills in lessons”.

A spokesperson for the UTC, which specialises in engineering and design, said: “Bedford College will begin working with us immediately to support our teaching and learning. They will be developing and building on the very important work on raising standards that has been led by our interim principals Ursula Byrne and Russell Ball.”

Bedford College principal Ian Pryce said: “We believe that there is strong demand for technical education within the local community and we will begin work immediately with parents, pupils and the staff to ensure the UTC quickly gains a reputation as one of the best local schools in the area.”

The move will formally take effect from September, but the college has already started working with the UTC’s existing staff and governors.

It comes after capacity figures for the 150-pupil UTC were revealed in answer to a parliamentary question last year showing it was just 30 per cent full last academic year.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “If Ofsted continues to judge the UTC to be inadequate, then we will not hesitate to take swift action, which could lead to terminating the UTC’s funding agreement.”

The UTC’s current lead sponsors are the University of Bedfordshire, which said it would “support Bedford College” in addressing Ofsted’s concerns; and Cranfield University, which said it had “no plan” to withdraw from its relationship with the UTC but was reviewing its association due to staff changes.

Central Bedfordshire College is also a lead sponsor. Its spokesperson said: “We and will be having discussions with the UTC about how it would like to develop our relationship for the future.”

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Editorial 

‘No learner is in an institution — that has been rated by Ofsted — any better than requires improvement.’

It’s the kind of statement the general FE college sector has had to endure from Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw in the past.

But it’s not one that can be levelled at the sector.

No, it’s a statement that applies to the University Technical College (UTC) brand, where a total of three inspections so far have produced two grade three results and now an inadequate one.

You’d have expected these shiny new institutions to be standard-bearers in terms of quality having been among of the first UTCs set up — and perhaps they are exactly that.

But that standard is worryingly low.

And with a local general FE college being asked to sweep in and sort out the latest mess, you can’t help but ask why there isn’t more promotion of the sector’s potential for 14 to 16-year-olds.

After all, it’s doing a good job so far with Ofsted producing complimentary reports of direct recruitment at Hull College, Middlesbrough College, Leeds City College and NCG, in Newcastle.

It’s time to give general FE colleges the limelight and ask serious questions of Lord Baker’s UTC project.

Chris Henwood, editor