UTCs group seeks millions from DfE for ‘sleeves’ in schools

Interested schools may also have to subsidise running costs of the mini-UTCs in future years

Interested schools may also have to subsidise running costs of the mini-UTCs in future years

16 Feb 2023, 16:46

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The body that represents university technical colleges (UTCs) is seeking support for the expansion of “sleeves” of their vocational education offer in existing secondary schools.

But millions of pounds in government funding is needed for the initiative, which may still need to be subsidised by host schools or academy trusts because of a lack of cash for technical subjects.

In a new consultation, the Baker Dearing Educational Trust hopes to hear from “interested parties” including school and multi-academy trust leaders.

Supportive views would then “reinforce the trust’s advocacy for the initiative with the Department for Education”. The charity initially wants a funded pilot in 10 schools.

So-called sleeves would provide a technical education curriculum for 14 to 18-year-old pupils in mainstream schools.

To be eligible, schools would need to be in a “strong” academy trust which either already sponsors a ‘good’ UTC or is able to form a “close relationship” with one.

DfE must pay start-up costs

Each sleeve would require up to £100,000 in start-up costs, which the charity wants the DfE to grant-fund, with future funding potentially coming from other government pots of money or employers.

But schools and trusts with the new UTC sleeves would need to cover some of their running costs in future, Baker Dearing has admitted.

This is because technical subjects at post-16 receive funding uplifts, whereas no such increase exists at key stage 4.

The “sleeves” would also need up to £1 million each in capital cash to “procure specialist equipment and to make necessary changes to the school’s infrastructure”.

The move follows what the trust described as the “successful founding” of a UTC sleeve in Bristol.

However, the sleeve at Abbeywood School formed last September after it took over the former Bristol Technology and Engineering Academy, a UTC that had been rated ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted and was well below its capacity.

Baker Dearing’s chief executive Simon Connell has previously said that under the initiative, schools would ideally open new mini-UTCs, rather thank take over existing settings.

‘Sleeves’ would replicate UTC model

The charity hopes sleeves would replicate the work of UTCs, with students progressing to T Levels, the new technical equivalent to A-levels, during their post-16 study.

Meanwhile, curriculums would include employer-based projects with the aim of developing skills such as team work, “resilience” and adherence to professional standards.

These curriculums would be informed by an employer board of representatives from local companies, and based on skills specialisms in short supply in each area.

Each school would have a “sleeve lead” in their senior management team, acting as liaison for sponsor universities and employers and managing the sleeve’s delivery and outcomes.

Baker Dearing said these could be seconded from a UTC in the same trust.

DfE grant funding of up to £100,000 per school would be needed to cover start-up costs, including paying for the sleeve lead’s time, the charity said.

But Baker Dearing’s consultation suggested future cash could come from other DfE pots, like its skills “strategic development fund” or academy trust capacity funding, or from employers.

However, eligibility for the trust capacity fund is currently restricted to academy chains taking on extra schools or schools forming new trusts with other settings.

Baker Dearing also hopes the DfE will raid funding for T Level upgrades to provide capital cash of up to £1 million per sleeve.

‘Several’ MATs interested in scheme

“Schools, students, parents, and employers are eager for a careers-focused technical education which gives young people the skills they need to take up fulfilling careers in industries in dire need of fresh talent,” said Connell.

He added that the consultation should be seen as a “rallying cry” for those in the sector or interested parties to show support for the initiative.

According to Baker Dearing, several trusts have already expressed interest in the proposed scheme.

It will support applications to the DfE for interested schools, which must be able to evidence both local skills needs and “willing” employer and university partners.

Scheme could enable UTCs to grow

Plans for two new UTCs were submitted in the most recent round of free school bids, while work on a third bid is ongoing.

But UTCs have struggled with low rolls and performance since their inception in 2010, with twelve having already closed.

Last week, it was reported The Watford UTC would close at the end of the academic year due to a lack of student demand.

Also potentially standing in the way of bids for new UTCs is a lack of government capital funding and a predicted fall in numbers of secondary pupils from 2024.

But Baker Dearing pointed to recent gains for the sector. Enrolment at UTCs rose by 8 per cent this academic year.

Ofsted data also shows 78 per cent of the colleges are rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

In a prior interview with FE Week, Connell said sleeves could provide an alternative way for the programme to grow.

Skills minister Robert Halfon described the concept as “exciting” at last year’s Conservative party conference, adding it could “help mitigate the higher costs of building new facilities”.

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