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Two more UTCs struggling: one planning to become a secondary, the other facing takeover

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A university technical college with low pupil numbers has been ditched by an academy trust for costing too much, while recruitment problems in another has forced it to consider converting into a secondary school.

Bright Futures Educational Trust (BFET) is relinquishing sponsorship of Wigan UTC as it can no longer afford the 14-19 institution.

The UTC has been open three years but currently has just 65 pupils on roll, despite a capacity for 500.

Meanwhile, Bolton UTC – ten miles from Wigan – is consulting community members over a planned change that would allow pupils to enter from age 11 instead of 14.

If agreed, it would be the sixth UTC of 48 to close since the model was launched in 2010.

Dana Ross-Wawrzynki, chief executive of BFET who oversees Wigan UTC, told Schools Week: “In the present climate in Wigan where other schools do not support the transfer of their pupils to a UTC at the end of key stage 3, it became very obvious that it would be a long and uphill battle to secure a full house of 500 students for a very long time.

“BFET does not have the finances to keep funding the UTC over several years in the hope that its reputation will bring more students.”

It would be a long and uphill battle to secure a full house of 500 students for a very long time

The trust, which runs nine schools, took over the UTC in March last year following a turbulent couple of years in which the UTC was graded as inadequate. It has since been rated good by Ofsted.

The trust asked Vicky Beer, regional schools commissioner for Lancashire and West Yorkshire, if the UTC could convert to an 11 to 19 science, technology, engineering and maths school.

But Ross-Wawrzynki said Beer refused without giving the reasons for her decision – and despite a new secondary school needed to match a demand for places.

Instead, Beer is seeking a new sponsor and negotiations are ongoing.

Ross-Wawrzynki added: “We have not only lost a great school, but have been left with a debt due to the low numbers at the college.

“BFET is working closely with the sponsor to enable a seamless handover.”

Meanwhile UTC Bolton plans to become University Academy Bolton.

It opened in September last year and had 241 pupils on roll in January, although it has capacity for 600.

According to its website, the college sponsors “collected evidence” about the demand for year 7 entry in 2014, but went ahead with starting enrolment from age 14.

Local authority figures for the area indicate an expected shortage of 48 secondary school places in 2017, rising to more than 170 by 2018.

UTC Bolton said that given the emerging shortage of secondary school places it believed the “time was now right” to widen the admission arrangements and proposed a three-form entry year 7 intake from next September. It would retain a focus on specialist science.

If Bolton UTC does become a secondary school, it will join UTC Lancashire, Central Bedfordshire UTC, Hackney UTC and Black Country UTC – which all shut citing low student numbers and consequent lack of financial viability.

The proposals come less than a month after Greenwich council announced it was spending £13 million to convert Royal Greenwich UTC in south London into a secondary school.



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3 Comments

  1. This was never going to be a sustainable model. Even if full a secondary school of 600 is considered to be a small school and as such is on the very edge of viability in relation to the current school funding regime. Parents simply do not see the value of a transition point at the age of 14 – so allowing these schools to serve the full secondary age range might be a solution.

    As it stands they are becoming the dumping ground for children (usually boys) edged out of other schools. That in itself will only serve to make them less attractive to girls and the wider school population.

  2. Progress 8 data show UTCs and studio schools doing poorly. Of the UTCs which entered pupils for GCSEs, 4 were close to the average, 4 were below and 15 well-below. Of studio schools which entered pupils for GCSEs, 2 were close to the average, 1 below and 13 well-below.
    The sample’s too small to come to a conclusion about the UTC model as a whole but it seems poor return for the amount of investment.