7th December 2012 at 00:00

Condemning colleges smacks of desperation

Lord Baker has a problem. If his pet university technical colleges (UTCs) are not to fall by the wayside, they need to be available all over the country so that they become part of the fabric of British education and not merely a fad.

But, as keen-eyed readers will already know, there's no bloody money. Only 33 UTCs have been approved so far and there isn't much capital to create new campuses.

So now he has colleges in his sights but has he shot himself in the foot? Last week - and for the second time this year - Lord Baker took to the pages of The Times to call for colleges' under-19 provision to be shut down and given over to UTCs, this time opportunistically making use of the critical Ofsted annual report.

He also absurdly attempted to imply that colleges are inexperienced at providing under-19 education, by saying that most students are adults. As a former education secretary, he should know better: most of college time is spent teaching teenagers, and the adults are often only on short courses.

But the real catch for Lord Baker is that, without colleges, there would hardly be any UTCs: 24 out of the 33 approved include colleges as sponsors and in some, such as Cambridge Regional College, they're taking the lead.

Lord Baker's tough talk about colleges was partly prompted by Ofsted, which accused UTCs of promoting "mediocrity" by partnering with poorly rated colleges.

The financial collapse of Southwark College - a lead UTC sponsor - was a particular embarrassment for Lord Baker. In The Times, he described Southwark as a good example of a new sponsor, London South Bank University, taking over failing college provision. He conveniently forgot that his organisation, the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, had originally encouraged the "failure" to run the whole show.

But if his intention now is to try to shut down colleges' 14-19 provision in its entirety, how will he get even the non-turkeys to vote for Christmas?

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