Doomed Black Country UTC failed to promote vocational options, inspectors find

The damning Ofsted report cited as one of the reasons behind the closure of one of the flagship University Technical Colleges (UTCs) was today released, revealing inadequate grades across the board and a failure to promote vocational options.

Black Country UTC (BCUTC) announced plans to shut in April partly blaming a “disappointing” Ofsted report for the decision to close its doors from August 31.

The report shows the UTC, which offers specialist engineering training for 14 to 16-year-olds alongside core qualifications, had been placed in special measures following concerns raised by inspectors over learner safety and achievement — and concerns that its sixth form was failing to promote vocational options to leavers.

It said learners had “limited access to appropriate careers advice and guidance” and also found student achievement was “well below the national average and should be higher”.

The UTC has apologised to the students and parents who had been “let down” by its underperformance. Meanwhile, the Baking Dearing Trust, which oversees UTCs, admitted its response to the UTC’s problems should have been “more robust”.

Governors of the University of Wolverhampton and Walsall College-sponsored UTC, which opened in 2011, announced their decision to close the school on August 31. Black Country UTC principal Paul Averis (pictured) said when the closure was announced: “This has been a difficult decision for all concerned.”

The UTC has 158 learners on role, which, inspectors noted, was “considerably smaller than most schools” — and less than a fifth of learners at the college are girls, while the majority of students were white British.

According to 2011 census data, almost one in four members of the population of Walsall is from a minority ethnic  group (23.1 per cent)

Meanwhile, standards in the UTC’s sixth form provision were “very low” according to the report, with poor guidance for learners opting for a vocational route — despite the UTC’s own vocational focus.

“Students who intend to apply to university are well supported with their applications,” the report said. “Students who intend to follow other pathways, for example apprenticeships, receive less guidance.”

Inspectors also raised concerns about  students not being guided onto appropriate courses within the UTC, inspected in March.

“A number of students are on courses that are too hard for them and they are unlikely to be successful,” the report said, adding a lack of effective tracking meant students had not been identified quickly enough to allow them to move to more appropriate courses.

The UTC was previously inspected in April last year, when it received a grade three, and the most recent report found key concerns raised last time had not been dealt with.

“Leaders, including governors and the sponsors, have not addressed low standards, poor behaviour, low levels of attendance and weak teaching in the college,” the report said.

A spokesperson for the UTC said the governors accepted Ofsted’s verdict, “with regret”, but a “thorough assessment” of the report had led to the decision to close.

“We are very sorry that the positive hopes we had for the BCUTC have not been fulfilled,” she said.

“We apologise wholeheartedly to the students and parents that have been let down by the performance of the BCUTC.

“It was very difficult to decide to close the BCUTC and we are giving full support and guidance to students and parents affected by the closure.

“The principal and staff are working closely with the Department for Education, Walsall Council and local education providers to ensure a smooth transition for all students.”

Its closure follows that of another early UTC — Hackney UTC. It announced in July that it had failed to attract enough learners to stay open beyond this academic year.

There are currently 30 UTCs operating, including Hackney, with 15 more due to open in 2016 and a further five in 2017.

A Baking Dearing Trust spokesperson also expressed “regret” over Ofsted’s findings, but said it supported the governor’s decision to close.

“Baker Dearing Educational Trust’s role in supporting Black Country, and other UTCs, is advisory,” she said.

“UTCs are autonomous institutions, controlled by their own board of governors which is ultimately responsible for the management and performance of the school.

“In this case, we accept that our interventions needed to have been more robust and plans are now in place that enables this to happen in the future.

“The Ofsted report is very disappointing and we take the issues raised very seriously.

She added: “Baker Dearing Educational Trust is committed to supporting all UTCs. There are many local factors, unique to this project, which led to the decision to close BCUTC and it isn’t a judgment on the UTC model as a whole.”

The spokesperson also said Baker Dearing would help to ensure the BCUTC learners where supported.

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