A University Technical College (UTC) supported by major players in the world of science – including the University of Cambridge – has been given an "inadequate" rating by Ofsted.
UTC Cambridge opened just two years ago in £10m state-of-the-art premises on the city’s high-tech Biomedical Campus and has the backing of drugs giant AstraZeneca and microchip developers ARM.
But while it praised many aspects of the school, Ofsted’s report raises concerns over the its management, with inspectors highlighting a lack of consistency in its safeguarding procedures and keeping of attendance records.
The UTC is sponsored by Cambridge University Health Partners, a group of organisations including the university, which works towards advancements in medical research.
The 14-19 school, which has 240 students, specialises in biomedical and environmental sciences.
The findings follow education secretary Justine Greening’s recent statement that UTCs were a "good option" for young people looking for a technical-based route, rather than studying in one of the proposed new or extended grammar schools.
Ms Greening’s high-profile support came after it emerged that Lord Baker, the founder of the UTC movement, admitted it was a “struggle to keep them going” because of the difficulty of attracting students at 14.
In October this year, TES reported that there were 48 open UTCs, four which had been closed down and three which were aborted before they were opened.
Only one UTC had been rated "outstanding" by Ofsted, seven were "good", five were rated as "requires improvement" and one was found to be "inadequate". A total of 34 colleges were yet to be inspected.
Students at UTC Cambridge spend between 10 and 20 hours a week on "challenge projects" held at local employers, in a bid to develop the skills required to go straight into careers in science and industry.
Ofsted praised this approach in its report, calling it an "outstanding" feature of the curriculum.
A statement on the UTC’s website points out that the college was rated as "good" for its quality of teaching, learning and assessment, its outcomes for pupils and for the 16-to-19 study programmes; but received an ‘inadequate” rating overall.
The statement said: “This judgement was based on the grades given for effectiveness of leadership and management and for personal development, behaviour and welfare of the pupils.
“The inspector commented on a lack of consistency in the safeguarding procedures and recording pupil attendance which meant, despite the many strengths they found throughout the college, under new changes in Ofsted procedures they had no option but to place the UTC Cambridge into special measures.”
The UTC is in the process of becoming part of the Parkside Federation Academies, a multi-academy trust.
Jon Green, chair of the board of governors, said: “As you should expect the pupils are the upmost priority and their safety and welfare has driven our actions since the inspection took place. All the issues raised by Ofsted have been swiftly addressed but as ever we will continue to seek continuous improvement.” Andrew Hutchinson, interim executive principal at the UTC, said the college had already taken ‘a number of steps which we feel address the processes and procedures which were in question.”
A ‘transitional leadership structure’ had been put in place, he said, which would help pull the college out of special measures.
He said the school's principal Melanie Radford, had now left, and would be replaced by acting principal Sian Foreman.
He added: “We should not forget what makes the college a great place to learn. There were many things that the inspection report highlighted as strengths…The future of the UTCC remains positive – we have amazing young people, staff and facilities and are looking forward to strengthening our position by joining the Parkside Federation Multi -academy Trust.”
He told TES that he said that the brand of the college 'would remain strong' and that people would read the Ofsted report fully before making any judgement about it.