Second groundbreaking UTC to shut as student numbers fail to increase and Ofsted sees lack of improvement

Student numbers, financial challenges, staffing capacity and a second consecutive Ofsted inspection blow were said to be behind plans to shut the Black Country University Technical College (UTC) — one of the first UTCs to open.

Governors of the University of Wolverhampton and Walsall College-sponsored UTC, which opened in 2011, tonight announced their decision to close the school on August 31.

News of the closure comes on the same day as Prime Minister David Cameron promised “a UTC within reach of every city” as part of the Conservative Party’s election manifesto launch, while Labour has also backed UTCs.

Black Country UTC principal Paul Averis (pictured) said: “This has been a difficult decision for all concerned.”

Of the Black Country UTC’s 158 learners, 57 are due to complete their studies before closure while the rest would be “supported to move to an alternative provision”, a Walsall College spokesperson said.

The UTC has an overall capacity for 480 learners — meaning it is currently running at just 33 per cent full. In 2013/14 it was running at 31.5 per cent full and at 36.5 per cent the year before that.

Just over two years ago Ofsted inspectors said it ‘requires improvement’ as they gave it a grade three rating and it is understood the improvement they wanted to see was not evident during a recent inspection — although the actual result has not been divulged.

Mr Averis said: “Our primary focus remains the wellbeing and success of the students at the school, not least of all those due to sit exams this term.

“We are absolutely committed to ensuring that all of our students can continue with their chosen learning outcomes.

“Support and guidance is being provided to students and their parents and carers both internally and through our local partners.

He added the UTC would “work closely” with the Department for Education, Walsall College and other local education institutions “to ensure a smooth transition” for learners.

A spokesperson from the UTC said: “This outcome has been reached following a recent disappointing inspection, a thorough assessment of actual and projected student numbers, financial challenges, staffing capacity and the impact these will have on standards of teaching and learning.”

The science and engineering UTC was one of the first of the institutions, which offer specialist vocational training alongside key literacy and numeracy qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds, to open.

But 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.

The Baker Dearing Educational Trust, which oversees UTCs, said: “Baker Dearing Educational Trust has worked alongside the Governors of Black Country UTC, the Department for Education and Walsall College, and it is with regret that we support their decision for its planned closure in August 2015.

“Baker Dearing shares the disappointment felt by all staff, students, parents and stakeholders. The priority now is to ensure students receive the best support and guidance available, in particular those students undertaking exams this term. Black Country UTC has a detailed closure plan and we will support the UTC in any way possible in the coming months.

“UTCs are a national programme and we hope that some students from Black Country UTC may be able to transfer to one of the other UTCs in the region.”

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  1. Over the past few years we have seen the increase in choice for 14-19 education with the introduction of UTC’s, Studio Schools, Academies, Free Schools………..

    As a parent I find the number of choices annoying, and the emphasis on their difference from each other, rather than their ability to educate well, disappointing. As an educationalist working in an ITP I find this increasingly cramped market place frustrating.

    We are very aware of the reducing demographic we’ve experienced over the past few years, and although this trend is set to turn in our favor, it won’t be tomorrow!

    We are equally aware of the vast amount of post 14 provision that now dominates our landscape.

    Choice is great, it drives up quality and increases competition, but increasing freedoms and flexibilities at the same time as drastically cutting the available income, and at a time when fewer people are available to benefit from the changes, will inevitably result in what we are seeing here.

    Once again, the introduction of these (funded) freedoms to offer an alternative to the ‘main stream’ education offer, did not include the ITP sector. The majority of ITP’s could not afford to sponsor a UTC even in a consortia with University support, but ITP’s have, time and again, proved their ability to deliver good, or better, vocational and applied learning to this cohort of young people, regardless of their career, F.E. or H.E. ambitions.

    Instead of continually chasing the mythical ‘pot of educational gold’ look to the ITP’s to support increased educational ambitions under the same criteria used for the myriad of other available places of learning mentioned above.

    It is tragic to see the displacement and disruption to young people following the closure of a facility like this, but to continue building them with a finite number of available customers, it will happen again!