Ministers to review ‘questions’ over UTC programme in wake of Black Country closure

Ministers to review 'questions' over UTC programme in wake of Black Country closure

Questions over Former Education Secretary Lord Baker’s University Technical Colleges (UTCs) programme will be reviewed by ministers after questions from an MP over the closure of the Black Country UTC.

Skills Minister Nick Boles said it was important the government asked itself “is this programme as successful as it can possibly be” before agreeing to open more of the institutions that, as reported by FE Week, have been fraught with issues around recruitment and attendance.

Mr Boles made the comments during a Commons debate on UTCs, tabled by Walsall North MP David Winnick, who raised concerns about Black Country UTC, which will close in August after around four years and following an inadequate Ofsted inspection result.

Mr Boles told the Commons: “I think it is very important now at the start of a Parliament that we look at this programme and we ask ourselves is this programme as successful as it can possibly be before we launch ourselves into the process of opening more institutions like this, which is something that we as a government are very firmly committed to do.”

Mr Boles said he hoped Mr Winnick understood that government had to “take some risks” when it was trying to “improve and innovate”, and said it was a “huge matter of regret” that the college had been forced to close “so soon after it opened and after so much taxpayers’ money was invested”.

The Minister re-assured Mr Winnick that the UTC programme received a lot of attention from both officials and elected politicians in the Department for Education, and added: “It would not have been a surprise to the department or officials that this college was in trouble, but of course it wasn’t until that second Ofsted report that the trouble perhaps crystallised.”

Mr Boles said the government was “firmly committed” to the UTCs programme, but promised to “look at all questions on how the model works”, including issues of recruitment and sponsorship.

UTCs are 14 to 19 institutions, often run by one or more academic or commercial sponsors, which allow learners to follow a technical route from an earlier age. Black Country UTC opened in 2011 and is now one of 30 currently open. Hackney UTC will also close in August.

See edition 141 of FE Week, dated June 15, for more.