Struggling UTC opens its own 11-14 feeder school to boost numbers

Struggling UTC opens its own 11-14 feeder school to boost numbers

A university technical college that has struggled to recruit pupils is opening an 11 to 14 “specialist academy” next door to act as its own feeder school.

The Inspiration Academy@Leigh UTC will open in September on the same plot and directly opposite the Leigh UTC in Kent. It will be run by the Leigh Academies Trust (LAT), which already sponsors 15 schools in Kent, including Leigh UTC.

The school will take 120 pupils a year to study a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) based-curriculum. They will then be given an automatic place at the 14 to 19 UTC.

Leigh UTC has struggled to attract pupils since opening in 2014. It is rated good by Ofsted, but fewer than a third of places are filled and pupil numbers dropped 17 per cent this academic year.

Stephen Leahey, who will lead both the UTC and the academy, said pupil numbers at the UTC “will go up as a result of the new school”.

However, Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said it “does not make sense” to base a new school around efforts to preserve the UTC.

“The closure of [seven] UTCs up and down the country is evidence that this model of 14 to 19 education has failed. There is a danger here that decisions that will affect children’s education are being made to support structures rather than learning.”

The new system will also go ahead without the blessing of the Baker Dearing Trust, responsible for overseeing all UTCs.

Children should not be specialising under the age of 14

A spokesperson for the trust said it would not grant a licence to a school to operate as a UTC if it included pupils at key stage 3 because “children should not be specialising under the age of 14”.

This barrier prompted The Inspiration Academy to open as a separate school, rather than LAT creating an 11 to 19 UTC.

The trust sees the new system as a form of 11 to 19 UTC, but with pupils able to enter or exit the pathway at three ages – 11, 14 and 16.

If pupils at 14 do not want to continue at the UTC, they will be offered a place at one of LAT’s other secondary schools, which are all rated at least good by Ofsted.

Leahey said that while the new school would have a “specific focus” on STEM subjects, pupils would be taught a “broad and balanced” curriculum that would include art, PE, languages and a “healthy minds” programme.

He told Schools Week that children aged 10 and 11 already “have a passion for STEM” and it was a “no-brainer” to build a school that “meets that need”.

Leahey said Leigh’s recruitment struggles were partly down to being in a selective area. Plus, all other local schools “work hard to keep up and offer a broad choice at key stage 4”, which made it “hard to set up initially and attract those interested in STEM careers”.

The Baker Dearing spokesperson said although the trust “hopes” many pupils from the key stage 3 feeder would want to move to Leigh UTC, “we would not wish them to feel that they were obliged to do so”.

The first cohort of year 7s at the new 11 to 14 academy will initially start in Leigh UTC’s building in September, with the new adjacent building due to be ready after Christmas.