Turn 'worst 100' into UTCs, says Lord Baker

7th September 2012 at 01:00
Failing schools would become 'spectacular' as technical colleges

The "worst 100 schools in the country" should be shut down and university technical colleges (UTCs) set up in their buildings, the architect of the initiative has claimed in a candid interview.

Former education secretary Lord Baker said the lowest performing schools should be "closed immediately" so they could be relaunched as technical schools for 14- to 19-year-olds. He claimed the move could create "something spectacular".

The UTCs, sponsored by FE colleges or universities and backed by employers, are designed to equip young people with vocational and academic skills and to address local skills shortages.

Lord Baker's proposal comes as he ploughs ahead with plans to set up 100 of the colleges by 2015. Funding for 34 has been approved so far, and he said that the whole project could cost as much as #163;1 billion.

"I think that the worst 100 schools in the country - that are failing - should be closed, immediately. Pupils sent away, teachers sent away," Lord Baker told Attain, the magazine of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, in an interview to be published next week. "Give us the buildings and we would have another 100 (UTCs) ... It takes three to four years to turn around a failing school and you don't always achieve it ... we can transform it within a year. We can start again and make something spectacular. That would be the most important thing to do."

The UTC academies have so far played second fiddle to education secretary Michael Gove's fast-moving free schools and academies programmes.

But Lord Baker said his project has the power to "transform the English education system". He added: "To introduce a totally new institution and get to the stage of over 30 being approved in nearly four years - big colleges cost #163;10 million each - is unknown in English education."

Lord Baker said that there are risks over the long-term future of free schools when the children of parents who set them up are no longer pupils. "They are inherently unstable when the parents' enthusiasm evaporates," he said. "We (UTCs) are solid citizens: we have a university behind each one; we have a group of up to 50 employers behind each one."

However, Lord Baker's bold suggestions were not well-received by headteachers' leaders. Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told TES: "UTCs are an interesting innovation, but they are not a replacement for the majority of schools in this country. They offer a very specific approach, which doesn't necessarily meet the needs of all students in any particular area."

He added that it was more important that heads were given the resources to be able to raise standards in their existing schools. Teaching unions have already criticised the concept of UTCs, which they claim will create a two-tier education system.

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