UTCs should be in multi-academy trusts to make them ‘stronger’, minister Nick Boles claims

University Technical Colleges (UTCs) should function as part of multi-academy trusts to make them “stronger”, education minister Nick Boles has said.

The minister for skills and enterprise told the House of Commons this afternoon he wanted to replicate success stories where the 14 to 19 technical institutions functioned well as part of academy chains.

Mr Boles’s comments come after he launched a review of the UTCs model following the closure last summer of the Hackney and Black Country UTCs, which had faced problems with slow recruitment and poor Ofsted ratings.

The admission has already been interpreted by some to be a sign the government does not have confidence in UTCs as standalone institutions.

Responding to a question from Gareth Johnson MP about Leigh UTC, Mr Boles said the institution was a “particularly good example”, not least because it was “part of a very successful multi-academy trust (MAT)”.

He continued: “That is a situation that we want to see replicated across the UTC movement, because UTCs are stronger inside MATs.”

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  1. Janet Downs

    UTCs haven’t been opened long enough to come to a conclusion about whether they’re better in or out of multi-academy trusts (MATs). The UTC praised by Nick Boles, Leigh UTC, only opened in September 2014 and has yet to publish any results or be inspected.
    So why the unsubstantiated praise? Perhaps it’s because one of the trustees of the Leigh Academies Trust is Frank Green who until recently was Schools Commissioner and vocal advocate of the academies system.
    One UTC, UTC Lancashire, was part of a MAT: Visions Learning Trust, which was slapped with a Financial Notice to Improve in August 2015. It’s since moved out of the MAT and is sponsored by the University of Central Lancashire. It appears, then, this UTC feels stronger outside a MAT.
    Wigan UTC, not previously associated with a sponsor, moved to Bright Futures Education Trust in March 2015. It was judged Good in May. A MAT success story, perhaps? But Bright Futures has just received a Financial Notice to Improve. Not so successful then.

    • As Janet notes, being in a MAT is no guarantee of either quality or longevity. If the Minister’s logic is financial/logistical, quite a few UTCs share back office resources with a sponsor (e.g. FE college or university) and this hasn’t protected them from failure. Some are doing OK some not and this seems to be independent of MAT membership. The key is recruitment against a very challenging business model (with many having planned steady state numbers which are marginally viable anyway). Unless you a) can ramp up numbers very quickly or b) start with a large dowry the odds are against survival. People starting UTCs are very *brave*.

      Speaking as a MAT chair, you can’t justify robbing Peter to pay Paul within the MAT group for very long where Paul is in long term financial trouble. It’s OK to solve a short term crisis and of course it’s OK if sharing costs reduces them for everyone.