Ofsted Watch: Tough week for UTCs as two get ‘requires improvement’

University technical colleges have continued to struggle as two more received grade threes this week, while one FE college got its third ‘inadequate’ rating in five years.

South Devon and Buckinghamshire UTCs both had unfavourable reports published on February 26.

It was the second ‘requires improvement’ rating in a row for Buckinghamshire which had just 147 students on roll, with a capacity of 600, in the last academic year.

Inspectors said students are not doing “well enough” in English, maths and science at key stage 4.

“Their overall progress has been well below the national average for the last three years,” the report states.

“The quality of teaching is inconsistent. Expectations of what students can achieve are too low in some subjects, and so students do not make the progress of which they are capable.”

Ofsted added that rates of attendance are “too low”, in particular for disadvantaged students and those who have special educational needs or disabilities.

Leaders’ recent actions to improve attendance have “not yet had time to bear fruit”.

However, the report also pointed out that the recently appointed principal, Sarah Newall, has brought a “renewed sense of purpose to the school”.

She has “quickly strengthened the quality of teaching, learning and assessment and has improved the school’s systems for tracking students’ progress”.

This is the first time South Devon UTC has been subject to an inspection, after opening in September 2015. The college currently has just over 200 students, but teaching and achievements are below national standards.

“Last year, key stage 4 pupils attained well below their capabilities on the school’s flagship engineering programmes,” Ofsted said.

“Teaching is not providing sufficient challenge for the most able pupils. As a result, they are not developing their skills quickly enough.”

Senior leaders have also “not secured consistently effective” teaching across the school as it has grown in size.

Positives however include the fact that the principal has a “clear vision” for the college. “He is ambitious for all pupils and has the skills necessary to bring about the necessary improvement.”

And last year, as a result of the school’s “extensive business links”, all students found places in education, employment or training when they left.

Most UTCs have struggled since the 14-to-19 institutions fist came about in 2011, mainly because they’ve not been able to attract enough pupils to stay financially viable.

Their performance has suffered as a result. In April last year, FE Week revealed that just 39 per cent of UTCs inspected by Ofsted were rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

Meanwhile Stockport College, which was actually rated ‘outstanding’ in 2008, received yet another grade four this week. Its report repeatedly warned that lessons had not been learned from the previous ‘inadequate’ inspection findings in November 2016.

“Leaders and governors have not reversed the decline in standards since the previous inspection,” it said, nor had they “responded quickly enough to address all weaknesses identified”.

Ofsted did recognise that “partnerships with local employers and key stakeholders are good”, and accepted that the board had been strengthened since the last report.

Two sixth form colleges also had inspection reports published this week. It was ‘good’ news for Connell sixth form college as it climbed up one grade from ‘requires improvement’.

But The Sixth Form College, Solihull didn’t fare as well as it received a grade three in its first inspection since joining the Ninestiles Academy Trust in August.

The only two other Ofsted reports for FE providers this week came in the form of short inspections at two adult and community learning providers.

Maintaining their ‘good’ grades were the Milton Keynes Christian Foundation Limited and Suffolk County Council.


GFE CollegesInspectedPublishedGradePrevious grade
Stockport College22/01/201801/03/201844


Other (including UTCs)InspectedPublishedGradePrevious grade
Buckinghamshire UTC23/01/201826/02/201833
South Devon UTC30/01/201826/02/201833


Sixth Form CollegesInspectedPublishedGradePrevious grade
The Sixth Form College, Solihull30/01/201828/02/20183N/A
Connell Sixth Form College15/01/201828/02/201823


Short inspections (remains grade 2)InspectedPublished
Milton Keynes Christian Foundation Limited31/01/201801/03/2018
Suffolk County Council07/02/201828/02/2018

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  1. Surely it is time that an independent enquiry into the whole UTC situation was
    initiated. For the last few years we have seen the relentless roll-out of UTCs across the country. In these times of austerity, and the demand for ‘value for money’, it is unfathomable that Lord Baker’s poorly thought through legacy has not sunk without trace.
    Numerous have closed, many are operating at approx 25% capacity, results/outcomes are poor, and now Ofsted is weighing in with worrying reports.
    Commentators have said the model is flawed (Mr Gove if I remember correctly), and it wasn’t rocket science. Recruiting at 14 and 16 was unlikely to attract large numbers of good quality students with aptitude in STEM subjects. This seems to be borne out by attendance data.
    Millions has been spent on refurbishing buildings, equipping workshops and labs, and yet some local large FE Colleges are being hammered into submission, and amazing mergers of campuses are the flavour of the month. They, too, are embroiled in so many distracting changes that they can’t even get good grades for the very basics of teaching and assessment of the curriculum. GCSE Maths and English is disastrous across the board it seems, and yet things roll on. A positive above is the ‘the Principal has a clear vision for the college’!
    After nearly 40 years experience of working in FE, and a decade retired, I find this laughable. Except it is not, years and years of young minds and talent are being cheated of a decent education/training that should equip them for the rest of their lives.
    It has become embarrassing to see just what a shambles some of the FE sector has been reduced to, and see initiatives like the UTCs floundering. I am not sure where the lead will come from but the current situation is inadequate, unsustainable and incredibly poor value for money!
    Am I alone in these thoughts?
    I worry about the lack of ‘Comment’ on numerous education issues.
    However, I only feel empowered by my retired status; as an employee it was not easy to express one’s thoughts/feelings.