Two more university technical colleges have ditched their 14 to 18-year-old intakes to recruit at 11, with warnings “many more” will follow.
UTCs in Plymouth and Wolverhampton have been granted permission to open to year 7s from next September. They join The Leigh UTC (pictured) in Dartford, Kent, which opened a feeder school on its site in 2017.
Now the Baker Dearing Trust, which supports the colleges, has predicted more applications.
Policy experts and ministers have long suggested the recruitment of younger pupils to solve the pupil recruitment crisis that has faced the UTC model since its inception.
But until recently Baker Dearing has vehemently opposed a change in entry age.
However, Simon Connell, the trust’s new chief executive, told Schools Week last month that it could be a “pragmatic solution” for colleges with low rolls.
Plymouth UTC, which has struggled with recruitment and standards since it opened in 2013, is hoping the addition of year 7 and 8 pupils will improve its fortunes. The school already accepts year 9 pupils, but has only 150 pupils in total, although it has room for 650.
Polly Lovell, its principal, said that since joining the Reach South academy trust last year, the UTC had been running taster sessions for year 4 and 5 pupils at nearby primary schools and has had “real interest from parents”.
She admits that recruitment at 13 or 14 is “not a natural transition”, and said the move to recruit pupils at 11 “will definitely support our financial survival”.
Lovell said the UTC, which went into special measures in 2016 shortly after she took over, had been on “a really challenging journey”.
“It was a long, hard battle of changing pupils’ views of the UTC,” she said. “We’ve changed the whole model really.”
In Wolverhampton, recruitment at the the West Midlands UTC was already starting to improve after Ofsted rated it “good” with some “outstanding” features last June. However, it is still only one-third full.
Av Gill, West Midland’s principal, said he wanted to extend the school so that more pupils could benefit from its offer. The struggle to recruit at upper ages was not his “main rationale”.
However, he acknowledged his pupil numbers would “definitely be healthier moving forward” as a result.
A Baker Dearing spokesperson said: “We expect many more UTCs to apply to extend their age-range in 2021.
“Baker Dearing is supportive of UTCs wanting to do this where it is appropriate.”