EDUCATION leaders insist there is huge demand for a University Technical College in Portsmouth – despite concerns nationally that they are struggling to attract students and having to close.
A report in the Times Education Supplement warns UTCs in Royal Greenwich, Hackney, Central Bedfordshire, the Black Country and Lancashire have announced their closure as they’ve failed to fill enough places.
It’s prompted Whitehall to consider forcing councils to tell parents about the benefits of their child going to a UTC – a specialist facility designed to help teenagers gain qualifications in electrical and mechanical engineering and advanced manufacturing – to ramp up recruitment.
The £10m state-of-the-art facility is being built using department for education money on the site of the Trafalgar School, in Hilsea, and will be taking its first students in September.
Portsmouth City Council insists Year 10 places are subscribed and the UTC is on target to filling Year 12 slots, and says employers are desperate for the ‘massive’ employee skills gap in the Solent to be tackled.
But city Lib Dem boss and vice-chairman of the Local Government Association Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson is concerned – and said local leaders have never addressed the failure of other UTCs.
This UTC hasn’t even opened. So for politicians to actively be talking down this excellent, new UTC; I find that quite disappointing.Portsmouth Tory education boss, Councillor Neill Young
He said: ‘I think a Portsmouth UTC is a good idea, and it fits in well with Portsmouth traditions.
‘But we need to understand what is going on.
‘We have a shortage of school places and we would expect the UTC to help create more student supply.
‘But if the experience around the country is kids don’t want to go and parents don’t want them to go and so they are closing, that causes a big problem.
‘If they are not working, then this is an enormous waste of public money. They cost millions to build each time.
‘I don’t think we initially thought this would be a gamble ,but it looks from the experience around the rest of the country that it could be a problem.’
Tory education boss Cllr Neill Young hit back at the criticism.
Cllr Young said: ‘What I find disappointing about this is we went to every parent in Year Nine, so they were aware of the options to young people.
‘This UTC hasn’t even opened. So for politicians to actively be talking down this excellent new UTC; I find that quite disappointing.
‘This is about giving young people the best possible start, something which is really important to them.
‘We are oversubscribed. One of the things you get with STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) based subjects, is that more boys tend to apply.
‘But we are showing better than average ratios of females applying for the UTC.’
UTC Portsmouth is a project being led by University of Portsmouth, the Royal Navy, Salterns Academy Trust and the council. and is supported by major employers including; BAE Systems, QinetiQ, AirBus, Nats, dstl and Land Rover BAR.