Five new UTCs open doors to students

Five new UTCs open doors to students

Five new university technical colleges have opened their doors this month, including one that was so popular it had to increase capacity before it even opened.

But with four more of the troubled 14-to-19 technical institutions closing in the summer, this still represents a net increase of just one, bringing the total to 49.

Ron Dearing UTC in Hull, which will focus on engineering and digital skills and which is backed by the University of Hull, was one of the five new UTCs to welcome its first intake of students this month.

It bucked the trend of low student numbers among UTCs when it was obliged to increase its capacity months before it even opened.

It had planned to take on 150 students in its first year, but it successfully applied to the Department for Education in 2016 to up this to 200 after demand for places outstripped supply.

Other UTCs to have opened this month include SGS Berkeley Green UTC in Gloucestershire, which specialises in digital technology, advanced manufacturing and cyber security, and UTC Portsmouth, which will focus on mechanical and electrical engineering and advanced manufacturing.

Meanwhile, London has gained two more of the controversial technical institutions – making up for the two that recently closed.

Sir Simon Wilton Westminster UTC is backed by the University of Westminster and specialises in transport, construction engineering and the built environment, while Mulberry UTC, based in Tower Hamlets, will focus on the health and creative industries, and is supported by Goldsmiths University.

However, both Tottenham UTC, which opened in 2014, and Royal Greenwich UTC, which opened in 2015, closed in the summer after they failed to attract enough students.

Tottenham’s site has now become the London Academy of Excellence Tottenham, a sixth-form school, which opened this month.

Greenwich council spent £13 million to convert its UTC to a secondary school, Greenwich Trust School, which also opened this month.

Greater Manchester UTC and Daventry UTC also shut up shop due to low student numbers, meaning that a total of eight of the technical institutions have now closed.

The UTC model has struggled since the first one opened in 2010, as many have not managed to recruit enough students to be viable.

Freedom of Information requests submitted by FE Week in April revealed that learner numbers had dropped at two thirds of the institutions opened in 2014 or before.

Even Michael Gove, the former education secretary and a key architect of the UTC programme, admitted earlier this year that “evidence has accumulated” that the experiment with 14-to-19 technical institutions had failed.

And around half of the UTCs inspected by Ofsted have been rated as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’.

Lord Baker, chair of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust which supports UTCs, said the schools “play a vital role in developing young people for the modern labour market”.

“In the ‘90s Blair called for ‘education, education, education’,” he said. “Today the call should be ‘employability, employability, employability’. 

“Focus on employability should start in schools, but too many of them only care about exam pass rates. What really matters is that students are ready for skilled work and, as we approach Brexit, the stakes could not be higher.”