Swindon UTC to turn its fortunes around after Inadequate Ofsted judgement by joining multi-academy trust

Joanne Harper, the executive principal of UTC

Swindon’s University Technical College has been judged as inadequate following an Ofsted inspection.

But Swindon Council states that the college has now turned a corner having become part of the Activate Learning Education Trust (LET), a multi-academy trust.

The UTC, which specialises in engineering and business entrepreneurship for students aged 14-19, will become the fifth school to join the multi-academy trust. Other members include UTC Reading – the first UTC to be rated outstanding across all areas – UTC Oxfordshire, The Bicester School and Bicester Technology Studio.

The move follows the creation of a new post of Executive Principal, to bring additional leadership capacity to the UTC. Joanne Harper, who is also Principal of UTC Reading, has taken up the role after supporting the UTC in her capacity as a National Leader for Education since November.

Current Principal, Angela Barker-Dench, has been unwell for some time and in her absence Deputy Principal, Jon Oliver, will work alongside Joanne as Acting Principal

It also follows the publication of UTC Swindon’s first Ofsted inspection report, which recognises that the quality of teaching, learning and assessment needs to improve in order to increase student progress and attainment. This led to the UTC being given an overall grade 4.

Joanne said: “I have been working with the UTC Swindon team since the autumn term and together we have already made significant progress against the areas highlighted in the inspection report. I am pleased that this was noted by the inspection team, who recognised that leaders have a clear picture of what needs to be done to improve.

“We are clearly not there yet and more needs to be done to ensure that UTC Swindon is a good school which offers the very best learning experience and outcomes for its students.

“Since joining the UTC I have been particularly impressed by our students’ attitudes and enthusiasm for learning. This, coupled with the availability of excellent facilities, was highlighted as strengths by the inspection team and gives us a good foundation on which to build.

“By working with our staff, students, parents and partners we can raise standards to ensure that the school delivers the first-class education it has been designed for.”

As a member of the Activate Learning Education Trust, UTC Swindon will benefit from enhanced leadership and management and will also be able to share the experiences and expertise of other members.

Lee Nicholls, Executive Director for the Activate Learning Education Trust, said: “We are pleased to welcome UTC Swindon to the trust. The UTC has all the ingredients required to develop young people for successful careers in leading local industries. I am confident that, with the right support, it will deliver the improvements required to become a good school.”

Cllr David Renard, Swindon Borough Council Leader said: “UTC Swindon’s recent Ofsted rating is disappointing, but the issues highlighted in the report are important and need to be addressed rapidly. This is why we are extremely pleased that the UTC is becoming part of the Activate Learning Education Trust (LET), a multi-academy trust, which includes the UK’s first UTC to be rated Outstanding.

“UTC Swindon also now shares its leader with that top-rated institution, UTC Reading, giving us further confidence that a corner has now been turned.

“However, there is no room for complacency and the council is very glad that we have been asked to work closely with Activate LET and its partners to help ensure that significant improvements follow. Some of these should be swift whilst others will inevitably take time to achieve. 

“We have been aware of the issues facing the UTC and support was repeatedly offered but, sadly, it was refused. As with all independently-run academies, it is not in our gift to force the matter, but we did raise our concerns with the Regional Schools Commissioner. 

“This exciting new partnership signals a fresh start and we look forward to seeing a business-like ethos prevail at UTC Swindon, which will fully prepare its students for the working world and help them to fulfil their true potential.”

Last November the Labour Spokesperson for Education, Cllr Carol Shelley, wrote to Ofsted calling on them to inspect the Swindon UTC and Ofsted confirmed would be inspecting the Swindon UTC during the 2016/17 school year.

Last year it was reported that Swindon UTC had only filled 25% of its student places and their 2016 results “well below the national average”.

The University Technical College’s 2016 Key Stage 4 results were deemed “well below the national average”, with only 36% of students achieving at least a C Grade in English and Maths.

It was also learnt last year that the Principal of Swindon UTC, Angela Barker-Dench was not in the school and had taken extended leave.

The Labour Group Spokesperson for Education, Cllr Carol Shelley, said: “I am disappointed but not at all surprised by this judgement. The poor performance and outcomes at the Swindon UTC has been known for some time.

“It is crucial that Swindon Council and the Regional School Commissioner does all it can to quickly improve the outcomes of students currently within the college. However with low pupil numbers at the college and Ofsted’s inadequate judgement, I do think we now need to review whether Swindon UTC should remain as an education provider in the town.”