A university technical college in Cheshire has infuriated local schools after it invited its 2018 intake to start this month – a potential breach of the government’s school admissions code.
The pupils were due to join UTC Warrington, which offers science and engineering courses for 14- to 19-year-olds, in September, but it suggested they move in January instead, reportedly leaving it up to the children to inform their previous schools that they would depart at Christmas.
This decision to “poach” its new intake nine months in advance of the conventional start date has caused outrage in the local area, and the skills minster Anne Milton has acknowledged “concerns” that the UTC’s actions may be “in breach of the admissions code”.
“We are taking this seriously and are in discussions with the UTC, the local authority and representatives from local schools,” she said in response to a written parliamentary question from Warrington North MP Helen Jones.
Filling pupil places has been a constant problem for UTCs. A Schools Week investigation revealed last week that almost every UTC missed their recruitment targets in 2016-17, meaning they were overpaid by the government.
The council was very disappointed by the unwise decision of the UTC and are unimpressed by its educational principles
The Education and Skills Funding Agency is now attempting to claw back a combined debt of over £11 million from 39 of the UTCs still open in 2016-17.
UTC funding is allocated based on estimated student numbers, so if their actual enrolment is lower than predicted they have to repay the excess money.
The schools which have lost pupils to UTC Warrington could now be asked to return money to the government, as their funding is also directly related to the number of pupils they teach.
The UTC has been scolded by for its “unwise decision” by one of its own founding members, Steven Broomhead, who is also chief executive of Warrington borough council.
“Members” are effectively the owners of a UTC, involved in setting it up and responsible for important decisions, but Broomhead did not mention his involvement.
“The council was very disappointed by the unwise decision of the UTC and are unimpressed by its educational principles,” he said. “We have met with the UTC to discuss the matter and in particular how, in future, our young people’s interests could be better served by developing good relationships between schools and the UTC.”
Jones has told the local newspaper, The Warrington Guardian that she found it “astonishing” that the UTC had recruited the pupils early “without approval from the Department for Education”.
“The actions of the UTC have damaged many schools and will lead to yet further cuts in their budgets,” the MP said.
She has subsequently tabled questions to the government, asking it to compensate the schools that have lost money.
In response, Nadhim Zahawi, a junior minister at the DfE, wrote a letter on January 19, saying “no schools will lose funding in the current academic year for those year 9 pupils who have made an early transfer to Warrington University Technical College”.