Portsmouth schools bid to become technical academies falls through

From left, Paul Stanley, Jo Crisp, George Heasman, Mercedes Bevan, Luke Galea and Bethany Bevan from Highbury College

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TWO major school bids to give Portsmouth youngsters vital work skills in science and engineering have fallen through, The News can reveal.

A £10m proposal to convert City Boys into a university technical academy (UTA) for 11 to 19 year-olds focusing on science, technology, engineering and maths has been scrapped.

And a proposed free school at the Historic Dockyard specialising in the same subjects for 14 to 19 year-olds was turned down – after getting through to a final shortlist of 14.

John Craven, vice-chancellor of the University of Portsmouth – which would have sponsored the UTA – blamed the government.

He says despite being given the green light for an 11-19 academy, officials have now changed their minds and will only support 14-19 schools.

Prof Craven said: ‘We were told quite clearly at a meeting recently that if we prepared to bid for an 11-19 academy we would not be successful.

‘We also knew through private conversations that there had been a similar bid in another university town that had been formally “squashed” even though it had been originally encouraged.

‘So we have come to the conclusion that we will not waste any more time or resources preparing for a bid that is doomed to fail.

‘In Portsmouth the view is that transition for children at 14 years is not helpful, but that is not something that is shared by the government.

‘If we want to train youngsters in technical subjects, we need to start earlier.’

The Department for Education denied these claims, saying the university had bid for the wrong pot of funding – for 14-19 University Technical Colleges, which Prof Craven points out chancellor George Osborne redefined in his Spring budget to cover 11-19 academies.

Prof Craven, who had spent about £20,000 towards the bid, said: ‘It is very disappointing that the government has had a change of mind. I asked the DfE following Osborne’s statement and they confirmed that the UTC/UTA model included 11 to 19 schools – perhaps because they did not want to imply he had made a mistake.’

Meanwhile, the Solent STEM studio school planned for the Historic Dockyard that was also seen as a vehicle for making young people in the city more employable, failed to get approval.

Tim Gallier, head of business operations, said they too were given conflicting advice.

He said: ‘Despite everything we were told, we were one of two proajects knocked out of the final 14 because we were not sponsored by a college.

‘We were led to believe the government was looking for fresh thinking, and they didn’t want us to be part of a college campus.’