One of the first University Technical Colleges in the country is to close due to a decline in pupil numbers and “financial challenges”, it has been announced.
Black Country UTC, which is sponsored by Walsall College and the University of Wolverhampton and was only the second to be opened under the programme in 2011, will close in August.
The news comes just hours after the Conservatives promised a UTC “within reach of every city” in their election manifesto launch this morning.
It 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.
In a statement, the governors of the Black Country UTC, based in Bloxwich, Walsall, said the outcome had been reached following “a recent disappointing inspection, a thorough assessment of actual and projected student numbers, financial challenges, staffing capacity and the impact these will have on standards of teaching and learning.”
The college has not yet provided any detail about those issues, although the most recent inspection report on the Ofsted website, from January 2013, found the college “required improvement”, citing attendance and behaviour as concerns.
There are currently 158 students on roll, 57 of who will complete their studies this summer, while the remaining 101 will be supported to move to alternative provision.
Principal Paul Averis said it had been a difficult decision for all concerned.
“Our primary focus remains the wellbeing and success of the students at the school, not least of all those due to sit exams this term,” he said.
“We are absolutely committed to ensuring that all of our students can continue with their chosen learning outcomes.
“Support and guidance is being provided to students and their parents and carers both internally and through our local partners.
“BCUTC will work closely with the Department for Education, Walsall College and other local education institutions over the coming months to ensure a smooth transition for all students.”
A spokeswoman for the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, which runs the UTC programme, said it supported the decision “with regret” and shared the disappointment felt by staff, students, parents and stakeholders.
“The priority now is to ensure students receive the best support and guidance available, in particular those students undertaking exams this term.
“Black Country UTC has a detailed closure plan and we will support the UTC in any way possible in the coming months.
“UTCs are a national programme and we hope that some students from Black Country UTC may be able to transfer to one of the other UTCs in the region.”
There are currently 30 UTCs open across England, with 20 more due to open by 2016. They offer technical, practical and academic courses to 14-19-year-olds, specialising in subjects where there are a shortage of skills. The programme was pioneered by former education secretary Lord Baker (pictured).
They are supported by both main political parties; a review carried out for Labour last year called for UTCs to be a “priority” when planning future schools provision.