Cash-strapped Harlow UTC looks to join academy trust

Cash-strapped Harlow UTC looks to join academy trust

Another university technical college in dire financial straits is planning to pause recruitment at 14 as it looks to join a multi-academy trust to survive.

Sir Charles Kao UTC, a 14-19 institution in Harlow specialising in computing, science and engineering, is “100 pupils short of achieving a break-even position”, according to its income summary for the nine months to May 31, 2017.

Documents leaked to FE Week show this shortfall will force it to merge with the Burnt Mill Academy Trust by September.

The income summary shows that though funding from the Education and Skills Funding Agency is “higher than the current pupil numbers justify”, it is still “not sufficient to cover the running costs of the school”.

The documents record just 146 pupils in total on roll at in September 2016, despite a capacity of 500.

Speaking to FE Week, Rod Bristow, president of UK and core markets at Pearson, who chairs the UTC’s finance committee, said the free bus service – cancelled after it cost £46,000 this year alone – had been an “important method of ensuring students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are able to travel to the UTC”, but had “become very costly as a result of the significant decline in the number of students using the service”.

He added: “As a result, the UTC is seeking alternative means of subsidising the transport for these students so that they continue to have access to the UTC. The interests of students are paramount.”

However, the UTC’s budget papers for 2017/18 mention an anticipated “loss of some pupils as result of bus service cancellation”.

They add there will be “no year 10s in 2017/18” and “little or no recruitment directly into year 12”.

However, a report on student numbers said that “an assumption has been made that joining BMAT will increase potential students at year 10 and year 12 from 2017/18 onwards”.

The UTC’s cashflow forecast for the year until August 31 predicts that it will run out of funds during June, while a balance sheet from May 31 indicates that £769,974 is owed to the EFA. An operating deficit of £511,150 is also forecast for the full year.

Mr Bristow told FE Week that “a merger with Burnt Mill Academy Trust is under discussion with the support of the DfE”.

“Discussions on the merger are still ongoing and a formal announcement will be made once a decision has been reached,” he said.

The small cooperative trust, based in the south-east, was established in August 2013 and currently includes five schools in Harlow and Stansted Mountfitchet.

FE Week understands that Sir Charles Kao UTC would have to pay BMAT a service charge of £64,086.

Mr Bristow justified the move by saying: “Joining the MAT would allow the trustees and leadership of the UTC to have an even greater focus on outcomes for the young people of the Harlow region.

“This would include further securing value for money through shared teaching staff and senior leadership, as well as the transfer of back-office functions to the MAT, covered by a service charge.

“If the merger proceeds, it will give Sir Charles Kao UTC a much stronger base from which to grow.

“The students would have the opportunity to continue their technical education as part of a larger organisation.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are aware of the UTC’s plans to join a strong local multi-academy trust and discussions are ongoing.

“We do not comment on the financial position of individual academies.”