Another UTC to close after failing to attract students

The Watford UTC will be the 13th university technical college to shut, in a fresh blow for the programme

The Watford UTC will be the 13th university technical college to shut, in a fresh blow for the programme

Leaders of a university technical college in Hertfordshire have spoken of their “disappointment” after the government confirmed it will close due to low student demand.

The Watford UTC will see its current students in years 11 and 13 through to the end of the academic year before it closes. New starts for years 10 and 12 were suspended last year.

Its closure means an uncertain future for the college’s 22 staff members.

Watford UTC will be the 13th UTC to cease operation since their inception in 2010. UTCs are academies which focus on technical education alongside core curriculum subjects, with most students joining at 14.

Insufficient pupil numbers send UTC into the red

Year-end accounts at Watford UTC for 2022 indicated its governing body had agreed “by mutual consent” with the Department for Education to close.

A “solvent winding up” of the organisation will be completed within 12 months of its accounts being filed.

The college has not attracted as many students as projected since it opened in 2014, receiving less funding than anticipated as a consequence.

Financial figures showed a net revenue deficit of £103,000 in 2021-22, with a net book value of fixed assets valued at £7.7 million.

The Baker Dearing Trust, which exists to support and licence UTCs, said efforts to stabilise the college had included bolstering numbers by applying to lower its entry age and a proposal to join a multi-academy trust.

A spokesperson said those efforts offered “promising results for the long-term sustainability,” to both the school and education provision in Watford.

“We are disappointed in this outcome, especially considering the UTC’s ‘good’ rating from Ofsted and the high-quality destinations the UTC students have been able to achieve with staff,” they said.

Ash Patil, chair of governors at the UTC, said they were “disappointed with this outcome, as staff, governors and stakeholders have been working hard on a solution to safeguard the future of the UTC”.

“Every effort will be made to ensure students are supported to complete their studies successfully.”

University technical college has just 54 students

The UTC’s website said it offered full-time and technically orientated courses for up to 600 students aged 14 to 19, but actual numbers have been far lower in recent years.

At the time of its Ofsted inspection in March 2017 it had 169 students, about half of whom were on 16 to 19 programmes.

The college currently has 54 students – 39 in year 11 and 15 in year 13. New enrolments stopped last year while the DfE considered the college’s future.

In May 2018, the Education and Skills Funding Agency handed the college a financial notice to improve because of budget concerns.

Officials tasked the UTC’s governing board with securing a balanced budget and growing student numbers at a realistic rate.

Plans for new UTCs despite recruitment challenges

Simon Connell

More than 50 UTCs have opened since they were launched in 2010 by former education secretary Lord Baker. Many of the colleges have, however, faced financial difficulties and struggled to attract students.

The Baker Dearing Trust shared figures last year that showed student recruitment was improving across most UTCs, but Schools Week analysis found that while five are oversubscribed, more than half are less than two-thirds full.

The BDT has said that UTCs must be two-thirds full to be financially viable.

In November, chief executive Simon Connell said there were plans for three new UTCs.

Two of those were submitted in the most recent round of free school bids – one for a new UTC in Southampton being led by UTC Portsmouth, while the existing Doncaster UTC has applied for a health sciences and green technologies school.

Work on a third bid for Suffolk is ongoing with the aim of being lodged in a future application window.

Conservative MP for Watford, Dean Russell, who is also a governor at the college, paid tribute to Watford’s staff and governors and said that UTCs “have an important role to play in the country’s education”.

“That being said, following exhaustive efforts to find a route to keep the UTC open with every option examined and explored, I accept the Department for Education has had to come to this decision.”

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  1. The failure of the UTC is more a reflection on the general poor quality of iSTEaMplus provision at ks2 and ks3.
    If the approach is not changed we’ll never fill the vacancies and potential expansion of the associated STEaM related industries and research posts.
    These are the very industries J Hunt named today as those the UK is dependent upon for a better future.

  2. Irene Archer

    Their fault, really: no advertising for their schools meant students not aware of even their existence.
    What a shame, considering how better an alternative to mainstream they are, compared to PRUs.
    I’m a labour supporter and say shame on the leaders for not having done enough.

  3. Timothy Campbell

    Your article does not talk about why the UTCs are not attracting the student numbers!

    I would have been interested in reading more about the reasons behind this and what the students are doing instead.

    Thank you