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University Technical Colleges

August 2021

University Technical Colleges in Kent and Medway

You will find information about the government's philosophy towards University Technical Colleges here. The reality is that this was a bad idea, with a quarter of the 50 UTCs opened having closed or are in the process possibly because parents and pupils were wary of changing school at 14 for an unknown new institution. Schools Week has covered the theme extensively including here

The two local UTCs are no different, with both Leigh UTC in Dartford and Medway UTC failing to attract sufficient pupils to stay open as 14-19 schools. Below you will find my 2015 update as the two UTCs began their life. A 2017 article shows Leigh UTC throwing in the towel and starting the Inspiration Academy on the adjacent site to attract pupils at age 11 and feed them into the UTC at 14 negating the whole concept. It captures the Medway UTC at a brief moment of popularity before it nosedived and was placed in Special Measures before it was rebrokered and also extended its age range. It also catches me with an initial enthusiasm for the concept, before I witnessed the reality.  

Current situation

Leigh UTC, Dartford, 'specialise in STEM subjects in a state-of-the-art facility that is the envy of colleges and elite universities across the UK'

In 2019, the last year that the UTC had a separate 14+ intake, its student roll was Year 10 - 40 students;  Year 11 - 63; Year 12 - 34; and Year 13 - 29. Its Planned Admission Number was 120. Quite simply, with those numbers, it would have closed as being financially non-viable within a year or two. However, by taking in a Year Seven intake, initially called the Inspiration Academy in 2017, which filled and is now slightly oversubscribed for each of Years 7-9, it presumably made its way, probably with a bail out from its parent Leigh Academies Trust.

In October 2019, there were 129 pupils in Year Nine; in October 2020 there were 127 pupils in Year 10, the first official year of the UTC. In other words, there were NO pupils joined the school in Year 10 unless they replaced other pupils dropping out, defying one of the key principle of UTCs that students could make a mature decision at Year 10 to join their local UTC and follow a more vocational course. The government website  on UTCs has been updated to read: 

They offer a secondary-age education for Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5 (usually age 14-18) with some starting earlier at Key Stage 3. By recruiting at age 14, UTCs provide a fresh-start for many young people in a supportive, smaller school environment.

UTCs are more than just a school. As well as providing a strong grounding in the core subjects of English, Maths and Science, each UTC has one or more technical specialism linked to their local industry partners. The curriculum provides a blend of academic and technical learning, with balance appropriate to each Key Stage. Programmes of study demonstrate high academic and technical ambition for all pupils, building the vital employability skills, personal values and professional behaviours required by UTC leavers for rapid progression into the UTC’s target technical sector. 

The section in brackets has been recently inserted to cover those failing to recruit at 14, such as Dartford and Medway. 

Waterfront UTC, previously Medway UTC, specialising in Engineering and Construction.

By May 2018, the Medway UTC was failing miserably by every measure possible, and Ofsted delivered a damning Special Measures Report, with particular condemnation reserved for the governors and sponsors who were supposed to provide the business expertise. By the following October, numbers had fallen to: Year 10 - 52 students; Year 11 - 64; Year 12 - 22; Year 13 - 34, with a Published Admission Number of 150, so as with Dartford UTC it faced closure unless there was radical change. 

Around the same time, I published a further article entitled: Medway UTC put out of its Misery, which began 'The name Medway UTC will disappear on 1st November to no one's regret as it morphs into a new Waterfront University Technical College sponsored by The Howard Academy Trust, which has supported it for some time'. The Howard Trust's first action was to bring the admission age down to Year Nine, which has seen a small improvement in numbers, but there is still a long way to go if it is to become viable.   


My 2015 Report on the two UTCs read as follows: 

Leigh University Technical CollegeBuilding work has now started on Kent’s first University Technical College, opened September 2014, on the old Joyce Green Hospital site in Dartford. Leigh UTC will be open to students aged 14-18, and will specialise in Engineering and Computing. It is part of the Leigh Academies Trust. The college day will be from 9 until 5, with no homework, and the college is already building strong links with local businesses and Greenwich University.  There will eventually be 600 students, drawn mainly from local schools, and it is reported that students within 30 minutes travelling time will be eligible for admission. The UTC website originally stated that in the case of oversubscription, places will be awarded by a process of random selection, so there is no criterion of aptitude for the specialisms. This section has been removed as the UTC has plenty of vacancies and these are still being considered. The new college is still accepting applications from prospective students from Lewisham to Gravesend, and at Longfield in the south. This suggests that no individual school will suffer too much from losing students, although those which are currently struggling for numbers probably have most to fear. I am hearing that, unsurprisingly, local schools are discouraging their students from applying, citing a number of reasons, including uncertainty, although with the buildings heading for completion and strong backing from the Leigh Academy Group and local industry, I think the future is secure.   

Medway UTC, specialising in engineering and construction opened in September 2015. Its site will be part of the Chatham Waters development at the former dockyard and has technical specialisms in Engineering and Construction & the Built Environment. The College will cater for students from ages 14-19. Students in Years 10 and 11 will follow a programme that includes both of these technical areas (they will be able to choose to specialise in either one of them in the Sixth Form). There is no aptitude requirement for admission, and if places are oversubscribed, then after Looked After Children, 90% of places are allocated randomly in three defined catchment areas, the remaining 10% for children outside the three areas, also allocated randomly. The College is sponsored by the University of Greenwich, Mid Kent College, Medway Council and BAE Systems, along with other local employers. 

The admission policy is: 'The UTC intends to attract admissions from across Medway, as well as the neighbouring areas of Gravesham, Swale, Maidstone and Tonbridge and Malling. Medway UTC is committed to a straightforward, open, fair and transparent admissions policy. The school will act fully in accordance with the School Admissions Code, the School Admissions Appeals Code and admissions law as they apply to academies. In developing the admissions policy, the UTC is looking to strike a balance between admitting Medway students as well as students from other districts. It wants to minimise the impact of a reduction in pupil numbers on any individual school. This approach works towards ensuring that no potential student will be disadvantaged in gaining admission to the UTC based on where they live. Medway UTC has defined three zones from which it will recruit students. In addition, after the admissions of students with statements of SEN naming the UTC as their school of choice, and looked after children or children who were previously looked after, 10% of places remaining will be available to students applying from outside the three zones. Therefore, the zones are a positive way of providing opportunities for students from across sub-region to access the innovative curriculum offered by the UTC. These zones will also maximise opportunities for employers to engage with the UTC through having the opportunity to work directly with students from the same geographical area by offering work placements and ultimately employment opportunities'. 

It also states that: 'An important principle of UTCs is that they do not judge students on their past performance. Students are given new opportunities and new ways of learning which allow them to realise their potential'. It remains how these aspirations are to fit into the School Admissions Code which forbids any form of selection apart from in existing schools, and what purpose is to be served by the interview process. 

 In Medway, the students will come predominantly from eleven non-selective local schools, probably weighted towards those already least popular and least able to hang on to their students. Medway is already in the grip of rapidly falling pupil numbers in the secondary age group with one of those schools being over half empty in the new Year 7 intake, another three having over 20% vacancies, all figures likely to rise sharply after successful appeals and waiting list allocations to more popular schools. Currently, there were some 430 vacancies forecast for September 2015, a figure that will surely rise. In any case, the way that polarisation of choice works, the schools that will be most hit by what will inevitably be a popular option are those at the bottom of the pile.  The concept of the UTC looks excellent and belatedly fills a gap created by the abolition of technical schools in the 1970s and 80s. However, if it is to recruit across a smaller urban area such as in Medway it needs to be an integral part of a planned structure of schools, which appears not to be the case here. 






Last modified on Sunday, 29 August 2021 23:35
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