As the country’s first University Technical College (UTC) when it opened in 2010, the JCB Academy in Staffordshire understandably regards itself as a trailblazer.
Housed in a redeveloped 18th Century mill built by renowned industrial entrepreneur Richard Arkwright, the UTC is continuing his legacy by specialising in engineering and business.
But while the academy has proved to be massively popular with male students, it has – perhaps unsurprisingly - attracted significantly less interest from girls in its catchment area. In 2012, it received eight times as many applications from male students as females; out of an intake of 120, only 11 girls were offered places due to its random allocation admissions policy.
In order to tackle the problem, the college changed its policy for 2013, specifying that 60 of the places for new students should be set aside for female applicants in order to – as a report by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) put it – to “encourage girls into engineering”. This would, the school argued, provide “a much healthier cohort…in a school that is overwhelmingly male”.
However the 14-19 college has been ticked off by the OSA for flouting the school admissions code as a result of “indirect sexual discrimination” by breaching the Equality Act 2010.
This followed a complaint from a parent whose son was refused a place at the school, who claimed that female applicants were given a “distinct advantage” at admission because “only a small number of females apply to this engineering-biased academy”.
While adjudicator Cecilia Galloway expressed “considerable sympathy with the school’s efforts to increase the proportion of girls” and its “laudable aim of making it easier for girls to get into engineering”, she concluded that the UTC’s policy “[had] the effect of making it easier for the girls to get into the school simply on the basis of their sex”.
The school has amended its policy for 2014 in line with the ruling.