Ofsted has reported instances of racist language from students and learners’ discomfort from “blurred” boundaries between staff and pupils at a university technical college in Reading.
UTC Reading, run by Activate Learning Education Trust, was rated ‘inadequate’ by inspectors in a report published today following a visit in February – its first visit in eight years because of the exemption from routine inspections as a result of its previous ‘outstanding’ rating.
The watchdog reported that “the boundaries between staff and pupils are blurred. Pupils describe staff as ‘more like friends than teachers’. Some pupils told inspectors that this makes them feel uncomfortable.”
It continued: “Several pupils made serious allegations about staff directly to inspectors during the inspection. Too many pupils told inspectors that they had not felt able to report them to school staff. Pupils told inspectors that, in one case when they did report serious concerns to staff, these were dismissed.”
Elsewhere, inspectors found that in class “many pupils talk over their teachers” which goes unchallenged, and said that not all students felt they could report serious safeguarding concerns because “they have little confidence staff will act”.
The education watchdog said that teaching was inconsistent which resulted in gaps in students’ learning.
Ofsted said that attendance for sixth form students was too low, explaining that while leaders have set out consequences for those not attending many students were not on board.
Inspectors reported use of racist language from some pupils, with staff not always taking effective action on inappropriate behaviour.
However, Ofsted said that trust leaders had a clear vision and were beginning to support the 14-19 UTC well having identified that standards were slipping, albeit acknowledging this was very recent.
It said that the chief executive and chair of trustees had made some immediate changes to tackle weaknesses but said that until the inspection leaders and governors had not realised the extent of those problems.
A spokesperson from the Activate Learning Education Trust – the schools arm of Activate Learning which runs the UTC – said the trust was disappointed with the result but accepted the report’s findings and “take full responsibility for the shortcomings identified”.
The trust apologised to students, parents and the wider school community and pledged regular updates on its improvement efforts.
The spokesperson added: “The safety and wellbeing of our students is our top priority, and we have taken swift and significant action, including appointing a new executive principal, to address the issues as a matter of urgency.
“We recognise this news may be concerning, however we want to reassure everyone that we are taking the feedback serious, and are absolutely committed to ensuring that UTC Reading is, once more, recognised as a good and high-performing school.”
Wayne Edwards, principal at the ‘good’ rated UTC Heathrow which the trust also runs, is UTC Reading’s new executive principal, and had served as the college’s vice principal for four years until July 2017.
The UTC, which opened in 2013, had 499 learners on the school’s roll, of which 298 were sixth form students at the time of the inspection. It has a capacity of 600 learners.
Simon Connell, chief executive of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust which supports UTCs said it was working with UTC Reading to address the “disappointing outcome”.
“We are reassured that swift and decisive action is being taken to address the concerns raised in the report. In particular, Wayne Edwards’ appointment as executive principal of UTC Reading, following his success at UTC Heathrow, gives us confidence that the safety of pupils is a top priority.”
He said that three quarters of UTCs had been rated at least ‘good’ since the pandemic, stressing that UTC Reading’s report is “very much an exception”.