The future of another university technical college (UTC) hangs in the balance despite receiving emergency funding. 

East London UTC was slapped with its second financial notice to improve last month, after getting a £375,000 government bailout last year when it also chalked up a £1.8 million deficit.

Its latest accounts for 2019/20 show the Department for Education warned governors last month it was “minded not to approve” the 14-to-19 institution’s requests to expand and take on students from age 11 in order to improve its sustainability. 

“Although negotiations are continuing, the outcome of these is inherently uncertain,” say the accounts, adding that without extra cash the UTC won’t be able to “meet its liabilities”. 

The college is rated grade three by Ofsted and has 111 students on roll this year.

Questions raised over government support

The situation raises the question as to whether the DfE would rather allow struggling UTCs without good Ofsted results go to the wall rather than change their business model. 

Principal Kim Donovan told FE Week there were currently no plans for the East London UTC to close but declined to comment on the ongoing uncertainty over its future.

Eleven UTCs have closed since the first technical institutions were created by former education secretary Lord Baker in 2010.

The UTC does not have adequate resources to meet its liabilities […] without further financial support from the ESFA

East London UTC, which was first issued a financial notice in January last year before a second was published this month, hoped the DfE would agree to expand their starting age after it exited special measures in June 2019, say its accounts. 

But “after making enquiries on the level of support from DfE and ESFA”, governors concluded it “does not have adequate resources to meet its liabilities […] without further financial support from the ESFA or elsewhere”. 

Several UTCs have had finances probed

Meanwhile, eight of the 48 UTCs across the country have received financial notices to improve, three of which have closed since.

Buckinghamshire UTC, whose financial notice was issued in 2016 and lifted the following year, also faces an uncertain future. 

Its accounts reveal the Ofsted grade three institution recorded a £336,000 deficit last year, adding “the long-term financial sustainability of Bucks UTC depends ultimately” on increasing its 135 students through expanding the starting age to 11 or joining a multi-academy trust. 

A proposal to join the Merchant Taylors Oxfordshire Academy Trust has been resubmitted after the DfE rejected the first application. The UTC did not respond to a request for comment. 

David Robinson

David Robinson, director of post-16 and skills at the Education Policy Institute, has said “one-on-one bespoke funding responses are not enough” to save the UTC model. 

“In terms of the transition at 14, I don’t think any amount of Baker Clause reinforcement is really going to save that,” he added, referring to the legal duty on schools to make pupils aware of vocational study routes. 

UTCs “either need to start from age 11, or at age 16”. 

Better to transfer UTCs to colleges 

Julian Gravatt, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, told FE Week that “it might be better to transfer a UTC to a neighbouring college” rather than a multi-academy trust in some cases but this was currently “more difficult than it should be”.  

Meanwhile Simon Connell, chief executive of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust charity, which supports UTCs, said the “raised profile of employer-led technical education through the FE white paper” means “many high-quality MATs wish to have a UTC”. 

Twenty-three UTCs are in academy trusts, while four now start from age 11. 

A DfE spokesperson said “strong UTCs” play an important role in skills education and it “continues to work with UTCs to address any individual challenges”.

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