The Department for Education has released almost £1 million to fund an expansion of a university technical college (UTC) it issued a termination warning notice to just eight weeks ago.
A contract was published this week confirming that Galliford Try Building Limited had been awarded £890,778 to develop the site of Bolton UTC, now known as University Collegiate School. A further £81,227 has been awarded to Conlon Construction Ltd to build the college a multi-use games area.
It comes two months after the DfE’s regional director for the northwest, Vicky Beer, issued a termination warning notice to the board and trustees at Quest, the trust which runs the UTC, over the need for “significant improvement” following an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted judgement in February.
The DfE said the UTC expansion was announced in August 2020, prior to the UTC’s grade four Ofsted rating, explaining that the project is well developed.
A spokesperson added that the regional director has the power to terminate the funding agreement, which would effectively mean it is re-brokered to a new trust rather than closing down entirely, but they are not duty-bound to do so.
It means the regional director could decide to implement other measures rather than terminate the funding agreement.
However, the DfE said that it expects trusts to provide details of how they will drive rapid and sustained improvements.
The DfE would not be drawn on whether it had reconsidered the expansion plans in light of the UTC’s struggles.
Quest and the UTC refused to comment on the plans.
The expansion project is expected to total £10 million and is designed to help the UTC, which caters for students aged 11 to 19, accommodate more pupils and would include fresh sports facilities.
It is currently running at two thirds capacity, with 394 students on its roll against a maximum of 600.
The UTC opened in 2015 originally for students aged 14 to 19 under the Bolton UTC name, but has had a chequered history.
It was handed an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating at its first inspection in 2017, where students told inspectors they had been “sold a dream”.
Whistleblower reports a year later then prompted an investigation into the UTC’s finances, which found some fiscal decisions had gone unchallenged and “inadequate” financial controls.
In April 2019, the UTC was given a second wind when it secured a ‘good’ Ofsted rating following a series of monitoring visits, and joined Quest in August 2020, where it was renamed University Collegiate School.
A fresh visit by inspectors at the end of 2022 resulted in February’s ‘inadequate’ Ofsted report and subsequent termination warning notice.
It compelled the UTC to provide clear evidence of improvements, to safeguarding, leadership and governance, behaviour, curriculum planning and education standards, as well as a school improvement strategy.