UTC joining college-backed multi academy trust after Ofsted blow

Swindon’s university technical college will join the Activate Learning Education Trust, after being hit by an ‘inadequate’ grade in its first ever Ofsted inspection.

UTC Swindon, which specialises in engineering and business entrepreneurship for students aged 14-19, will be the fifth school to join the multi-academy trust.

Other members of the multi-academy trust include ‘outstanding’-rated UTC Reading, UTC Oxfordshire, The Bicester School and Bicester Technology Studio.

Activate Learning Education Trust was established by Oxford-based education and training group Activate Learning, which also includes Banbury and Bicester College, City of Oxford College, and Reading College.

As part of the trust, UTC Swindon will be led by Joanne Harper, who is also principal of UTC Reading, with the aim of improving its leadership.

Ms Harper took up the new role of executive principal after supporting the UTC in her capacity as a National Leader for Education since November.

Current principal, Angela Barker-Dench, has reportedly been unwell for some time.

In her absence, the deputy principal, Jon Oliver, will work alongside Ms Harper as acting principal.

UTC Swindon received a damning review in its first ever Ofsted report, published last Friday (March 10).

The government’s watchdog slapped the UTC with grade fours in almost every category, including effectiveness of leadership and management, quality of teaching, learning and assessment, outcomes for pupils, and 16 to 19 study programmes.

It received a grade three, or ‘requires improvement’, for personal development, behaviour and welfare.

Criticisms included “inadequate achievement of pupils in Years 10 and 11 in mathematics”, leaders making “insufficient use of the wide range of engineering-based industrial partners”, and the failure of senior leaders and governors to deal with “significant weaknesses in the quality of teaching, learning and assessment in order to raise pupils’ achievement”.

The UTC was also slammed for delivering an engineering-based curriculum that “does not meet pupils’ needs well”, and failing to monitor the development of students’ “wider employability skills” in 16 to 19 provision.

Some strengths were identified, such as pupils behaving “well in lessons and around the site” and being “well looked after, including the high proportion who have special educational needs and/or disabilities”.

Ms Harper said: “I have been working with the UTC Swindon team since the autumn term and together we have already made significant progress against the areas highlighted in the inspection report.

“I am pleased that this was noted by the inspection team, who recognised that leaders have a clear picture of what needs to be done to improve.”

She added: “We are clearly not there yet and more needs to be done to ensure that UTC Swindon is a good school which offers the very best learning experience and outcomes for its students.

“By working with our staff, students, parents and partners we can raise standards to ensure that the school delivers the first-class education it has been designed for.”

Lee Nicholls, executive director for the Activate Learning Education Trust, said: “We are pleased to welcome UTC Swindon to the trust.

“The UTC has all the ingredients required to develop young people for successful careers in leading local industries. I am confident that, with the right support, it will deliver the improvements required to become a good school.” 

It comes after former education secretary Michael Gove called on a general FE college in Bedfordshire to save the latest University Technical College (UTC) to suffer Ofsted grading disappointment, as reported in FE Week.

A spokesperson for Bedford College said it was stepping in at the request of Mr Gove at the inadequate-rated Central Bedfordshire UTC — the third UTC to have been inspected.

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