First applications for UTCs in five years - but not as you know it

The first applications in five years have been lodged for new university technical colleges – but there’s a catch.

Three new UTCs are in the pipeline but, like a traditional school, students will join aged 11, rather than at 14.

Ofsted grade-one Energy Coast UTC is hoping to open two UTCs, in Salford and Carlisle, while WMG Academy Trust, which operates two grade-two UTCs, has applied for one in Birmingham.

A spokesperson for the Baker Dearing Trust, which owns the licence to the UTC brand, said extending the age range at UTCs was the “right approach” in “certain circumstances”.

But David Laws, chair of the Education Policy Institute, warned a UTC operating a wider age-range “would still need to reassure parents they can provide high-quality academic and vocational education”.

A spokesperson for WMG said its proposed UTC would build on their existing education model, which offers “an innovative approach to students wishing to study science, technology, engineering and maths”.

Energy Coast UTC principal Cherry Tingle said the decision was based on “where there is a need for good or outstanding education or where there is a skills shortage where we have expertise”.

Salford was picked for its cyber and data skills gap while Carlisle has a gap in logistics and aviation, she said.

Explaining the 11 to 18 age range, Tingle said that students have come to them at year 10 “having made little or no progress in their last three years of secondary education”.

But she also admitted it was “absolutely true” that there were challenges in recruiting students at 14, especially when the UTC is competing with schools.

The Leigh UTC, in Kent, was the first to open an 11 to 14 feeder school in 2017. UTCs in Plymouth and Wolverhampton will open to 11-year-olds next September.

A Baker Dearing spokesperson added: “The overwhelming majority of UTCs recruit pupils in to Key Stage 4 [between 14 and 16], however if one wishes to extend their age range and it fits with the local education landscape, Baker Dearing is supportive.”

They added that the last application for a new UTC, in Doncaster, was made in 2014. It will open in September 2020 after being approved in June 2018.

However Andrew Morris, the National Education Union’s assistant general secretary, said the UTC scheme has already cost taxpayers millions of pounds which should have gone to the wider schools system.

The UTC applicants will discover if they have been successful next summer.

Baker Dearing trust chief executive Simon Connell told sister paper FE Week in September that he was “open” to UTCs changing their age range as a pragmatic solution for student recruitment problems.

He also claimed at the time that he wanted Baker Dearing to move from “quantity to quality” with no more of the 14 to 19 providers opening anytime soon. Instead, he said, it would “consolidate” after nearly ten years of “high growth”.