Keep 'ethos' of UTCs you take on, DfE orders academy trusts

The government has committed to ensuring academy trusts uphold the “ethos” of the university technical colleges they take on, including paying a licence fee for running them.

In a memorandum of understanding with the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, which supports UTCs, the Department for Education has formally agreed that it will expect academy trusts to pay Baker Dearing the £5,000 licence for running a UTC.

The idea that MATs, with their own inherent problems and instabilities, can ride to the rescue of struggling UTCs is extremely unlikely to work

The memorandum has prompted cautions to academy trusts to ensure that taking on a UTC is in the trust’s “best interests” and has led to accusations that the DfE is desperately “propping up” the programme.

The document states that trusts taking on a technical education provider, which recruit from age 14, must “understand and support the particular ethos of the UTC, and be committed to safeguarding this”, including ensuring representatives from its employer and university sponsor form the majority on the UTC’s local governing body.

Academy trusts that cannot support this may be allowed to take on the school, but will not be able to call it a UTC.

Last year, the UTC programme’s architect Lord Baker warned the providers could be “watered down” if they joined an academy trust. But in March, Baker and academies minister Lord Agnew wrote to UTCs urging them to join trusts.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, accused the government and Baker Dearing of “trying to save face” by “propping up” the UTC programme.

He also accused Lord Baker of being “able to exploit his connections to secure an agreement that safeguards the influence of the trust that bears his name”.

But he warned: “The idea that MATs, with their own inherent problems and instabilities, can ride to the rescue of struggling UTCs is extremely unlikely to work.”

UTCs have been beset by issues since they launched in 2010, with a run of poor Ofsted grades and many struggling to recruit adequate pupil numbers. There are currently 50 open UTCs, 20 of which are in academy trusts.

Kevin Gilmartin, post-16 and colleges specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said the memorandum was a “flexible and sensible approach”, but warned the government must “learn important lessons about the need to ensure that new provision is sustainable in the first place.”

Baker Dearing created and owns the UTC brand, model and its trademarks. UTCs must pay the trust £5,000 a year, and in return it provides support to new and existing providers.

A spokesperson for Baker Dearing said the memorandum marked the ways in which it and the DfE would “cooperate to ensure the continuing success of the UTC programme”.

“Baker Dearing’s role as licensor has been developing over recent years but has now come to a place where it is well understood by the UTCs themselves and the DfE. This is why the DfE and Baker Dearing have decided to codify it in this way.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “The memorandum formalised our current working arrangements in respect of UTCs.”