A FLAGSHIP £10m technical school at the forefront of Government’s education reforms has only been able to fill half of its places for 14-year-olds so far, new figures reveal.
The Sheffield University Technical College (UTC) – which will be the first of its kind in Yorkshire when it opens in a new purpose-built campus in September – has had 64 applications for 120 year 10 places from a catchment which covers eight different council areas.
At the end of March – which the UTC had set as a “nominal” deadline for student recruitment – it had secured just over the number of 14-year-olds pupils it had told the Department for Education it needed to be viable.
However its principal, Nick Crew, said it was well oversubscribed for its post-16 courses and would carry on recruiting 14-year-olds until the summer.
UTCs are a new type of school for 14- to 19-year-olds which deliver specialised technical education alongside academic subjects.
Last month the Government announced that 13 more had been approved, meaning 45 will eventually open across the country educating more than 25,000 students to be the “engineers, scientists and technicians of the future”.
This includes just one project in Yorkshire – the Sheffield UTC – which will open in a new £9.9m city centre campus this year.
The UTC, which is being kitted out with £1m of specialist equipment, will deliver diploma qualifications in advanced engineering and manufacturing and creative and digital media alongside GCSEs and A-levels.
UTCs have two points of entry for students who can join it at 14 – meaning they leave secondary school before their last two years – or at 16 after their GCSEs.
Although the Sheffield UTC has almost 60 spare places for pupils in year 10 it has been oversubscribed for its post-16 courses and has agreed funding with the Department for Education (DfE) to take on 180 students rather than the 120 it had originally planned.
Mr Crew said he had originally told the DfE that the Sheffield UTC would need at least 60 14-year-old pupils to be viable. In February the UTC revealed that it had only received 18 applications from 14-year-olds but Mr Crew said more than 45 applications had been submitted since then after a series of events to raise awareness.
He told the Yorkshire Post it was “not unrealistic” that the UTC could get more than 100 applications for its year 10 places overall.
The UTC’s catchment area covers the Sheffield city region, comprising Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham, Bassetlaw, Bolsover, Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire.
However the majority of applicants so far are from Sheffield. Mr Crew said that around 25 per cent of its post-16 applicants were from outside the Sheffield area but the 64 applications it has from 14-year-olds were predominantly from the city.
He added: “I think for the younger pupils the distance they would have to travel to come to the UTC becomes more of an issue.”
He said: “We really made a push from February on recruiting (14-year-olds) and we are still going forward with that at the moment. The feedback we have had from parents who have attended our events has been very positive and some have said to us that they are now considering whether their child will join the UTC now at 14 or after their GCSEs at 16.”
Mr Crew said that as the building work neared completion and people could see the facilities that the UTC would have to offer he was confident that there would be an increase in applications from 14-year-olds. He also said that he was confident that the UTC would be oversubscribed at both the 14- and 16-year-old points of entry in future years.
He said: “From next year I will be able to put our pupils in front of parents and they can talk about the opportunities that the UTC has given them. No UTC has ever opened full in year ten but I am very confident in the offer we have here in Sheffield. I went to see the JCB UTC in Staffordshire which was the first to open and they are oversubscribed year-on-year.”
The UTC is also in the process of appointing teaching staff for its opening in September. Mr Crew said it had received 187 applications for around 13 posts.
The UTC’s curriculum has been developed with employers in both the creative and digital media industries and advanced engineering and manufacturing sectors.
The new school aims to equip pupils with the skills and experience needed to work in areas such as animation, graphic design, digital communications and marketing, photography, film production and video games development along with advanced engineering and manufacturing careers such as developing products for the aerospace, electrical and robotics industries.
The £9.9m campus will include Arduino and Raspberry Pi workshops and IT environments for creating and testing technology, engineering mini factories, and advanced design and sound studios.
Students’ dress code will be related to the world of work and business rather than being a traditional uniform.
Prime Minister David Cameron has previously hailed UTCs as “the next great poverty-busting structural change we need”.
However Christine Blower, the general secretary of the NUT, has questioned whether pupils should be opting out of a mainstream school at 14.
She said: “Attempting to separate ‘technical’ or ‘vocational’ education from mainstream schools will lead to a two tier system.”