A university technical college in Bolton with a turbulent history has been issued a funding termination warning notice over concerns about the “inadequate standard of education”.
The Department for Education published the notice this morning addressed to board members and trustees of the multi-academy trust Quest, over concerns raised at its University Collegiate School, formerly known as Bolton UTC.
It follows a damning Ofsted report published in February in which inspectors rated the 11 to 18 school ‘inadequate’ in all areas – a fall from its ‘good’ rating in 2019 but the second time in its past it was lumped with the watchdog’s bottom judgement.
The warning notice said leaders, trustees and members of the local advisory committee have “overseen an inadequate standard of education for all pupils, including students in the sixth form,” and had “not demonstrated the capacity to tackle these considerable weaknesses”.
It added that they had “failed in their duties to keep pupils and students safe”.
The letter exposed “tensions” between governors and the board of trustees that was hindering the speed at which leaders could make improvements, and continued that “some pupils and staff feel unsafe” as a result of a lack of coherent oversight on safeguarding.
It described the curriculum as “underdeveloped” and “not suitably broad and balanced”, while concerns were raised around a lack of appropriate assessment systems or measures to identify students’ gaps in learning.
Students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) receive a “poor quality education” as a result of systems not identifying their needs, the notice added.
The Department for Education’s north west regional director Vicky Beer said: “I need to be satisfied that the trust has capacity to deliver rapid and sustainable improvement at the academy. If I am not satisfied that this can be achieved, I will consider whether to terminate the funding agreement in order to transfer the academy to an alternative academy trust.”
Crispin Pailing, chair of the directors at Quest, said a host of changes had already been made, which included appointing an “experienced head with a track record of school improvement” as interim principal and a new vice-principal, as well as suspending the local governing body’s powers.
In addition, Pailing said staff received further training on behaviour and safeguarding while a safeguarding expert has also been working to change some day-to-day procedures.
The trust said an interim executive board was in place chaired by a former principal of an ‘outstanding’ school, assuming responsibility for improvement work and reporting to the main trust board and the DfE.
Pailing added: “We are very sorry for the failures which were identified through the Ofsted inspection. We have taken swift and decisive action to introduce a school improvement plan which will address every point raised by the inspectors. Bolton UCS and Quest will be working with the regional director and the DfE to address the concerns raised in the termination warning notice.
“With new leadership, governance, and procedures in place, I am confident that our school improvement plan will achieve the rapid and effective change necessary to ensure an environment where students and staff at Bolton University Collegiate School can prosper.”
The UTC opened in 2015 for students aged 14 to 19 under the name Bolton UTC, but was stung by an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted report at its first full inspection in February 2017.
Year 11 and 13 students told inspectors at the time they had been “sold a dream”.
Whistleblower reports which emerged a year later then prompted an investigation over the struggling UTC’s finances, which found financial decisions that had gone unchallenged and “inadequate” financial controls in relation to a lack of an audit committee or financial checks.
The Education and Skills Funding Agency told the college it must join a “strong” multi-academy trust to drive improvement.
The establishment received better news in April 2019 when it received a ‘good’ inspection rating following a series of monitoring visits, before the UTC joined Quest on August 1, 2020 and was subsequently renamed.
But a fresh inspection by Ofsted at the end of 2022 found standards had declined once again and an ‘inadequate’ rating was published in February this year.
The UTC has a capacity of 600 students with 394 learners on its roll.
The warning notice has compelled the UTC to provide clear evidence of improvements to safeguarding, leadership and governance, behaviour, curriculum planning and education standards and a school improvement strategy, in order to retain its funding agreement.
The deadline for evidence to be presented was Tuesday this week, with an assessment of that information and a decision on whether the trust can improve the UTC now set to be made.
Since their inception in 2010, 13 UTCs have closed, with the most recently announced being Watford UTC which confirmed it will close its doors at the end of the academic year.