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Trust promises better support for UTCs after damning Ofsted report

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The body that runs University Technical Colleges has vowed to make its intervention process more robust after a damning Ofsted report revealed a catalogue of failures at one institution.

Black Country UTC announced last month that it would close in August, blaming financial challenges, low student numbers and a recent inspection report.

The report, finally published last Friday, revealed that the West Midlands college had been graded inadequate in all areas. It highlighted a series of issues including weak teaching, below-average standards of achievement, poor behavior and below-average attendance.

It also said the college’s governors and its sponsors, Walsall College and the University of Wolverhampton, did not understand how well students were doing at the college “so they [did] not have the knowledge to hold leaders to account”.

“They have failed to tackle the underperformance of staff, including that of leaders,” it added.

The Baker Dearing Trust, which runs the UTC programme, called the report “very disappointing”, and said it took the issues raised very seriously.

Although UTCs are autonomous institutions, controlled by their governors, the trust admitted that it could have done more.

“In this case, we accept that our interventions needed to have been more robust and plans are now in place that enables this to happen in the future,” it said.

A spokeswoman told TES that steps had been taken to improve the situation.

“Each open UTC receives a termly visit from Baker Dearing Educational Trust and, where a UTC is facing difficulties, they receive more support," she said.  

“We’ve materially strengthened the support we offer UTCs, which has included a larger team with more varied experience and building closer links with the other agencies that support UTCs.”

Black Country will be the second UTC to close in the space of a year after the flagship Hackney UTC in London announced last summer that it would shut its doors to new students this August due to a fall in numbers.

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group of colleges, has led calls for a review of the entire UTC programme, questioning whether the colleges are providing value for money and whether there is demand for them.

She said: “The contents of the report highlight what we have said for a long time – that the provision of high-quality vocational education is a difficult thing to get right. It is absolutely right that UTCs are receiving thorough scrutiny, as they are a model whose worth has yet to be proven.

“When outstanding provision is available through a local FE college, it is hard to see how a new institution such as a UTC is ever going to succeed.”

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