Transfer at 14; good idea, badly executed?

Schools Week has been running a story about the failure of many UTCs and Studio Schools to attract pupils for September. Their latest news is that Plymouth UTC will now not take any pupils at 14 this coming September Here in Oxfordshire the news on that front is better, with two of the three UTC/Studio schools fully subscribed. Indeed, the Didcot UTC has made 120 offer for 120 places equal to its Planned Admission Number and the Studio School in Bicester exceeded its PAN of 50 with 53 offers to the 60 applicants. Now, whether or not they all turn up is another matter, and we won’t know until parents have considered issues such as how much it will cost to transport their child to the school.

The Space Studio School in Banbury follows the trend identified by Schools Week, with 16 offer for the 75 places available. But, located as it is in the grounds of the town’s largest academy it has always seemed to me to be a bit of an oddity.

Despite these good recruitment numbers, there remain for the schools in Oxfordshire the same issues rehearsed before in this column. Existing Oxfordshire secondary schools will lose the funding of 173 pupils if all those offered places move to the Didcot and Bicester schools. That’s the best part of £700,000 in one year. Over four years it would amount to not far short of £3 million pounds after allowing for inflation. Put this drain on income on top of the 8% the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested might be the cuts to school budgets over the rest of this decade and you have the potential for financial problems at other schools.

To make the most of a system, you need a degree of planning or unlimited funds. We don’t have either at present and we don’t seem to have a government that understands that in times of austerity you need to make the most of the resources that you do have available.

The issue in Oxfordshire is, what will be the consequences for schools losing pupils at 14 and 16, whereas elsewhere the consequence is the opposite. What happens to the schools that don’t attract enough pupils to pay their bills? The silence from the Regional Schools Commissioners and the National Commissioner on the need for a rational approach is of concern. These civil servants must not be high priced rubber stamps approving new academies without understanding the consequences.

In the end, it will be the much maligned local authorities that will have to sort out ant mess. It may be no surprise that the Plymouth UTC operates in a selective school system. In such a system, few pupils will leave a selective school at 14 making it even harder to recruit from the remaining schools with the pupils that didn’t take or pass the selection process.

It is probably time to look at how the transfer of pupils at 14 is going to work in the longer-term: leaving it to the market isn’t really an option.

13 thoughts on “Transfer at 14; good idea, badly executed?

  1. Very difficult to see how ANY of these low number institutions can remain financially viable. Plymouth will be running at c.135 pupils in total going forward in September 2017.
    Oxfordshire(Didcot) UTC may be hitting its PAN but 120 added onto the current number still leaves it far away from its establishment figure. Similarly Bicester is SO small that it remains difficult to see how the finances can really work out.

    Studio schools especially are a very expensive option which the country really can’t afford.

  2. And as a PS isn’t Bicester Studio School in the grounds of Bicester Community College?? One of the two main secondary schools in the town?

    • Yes, but the links are, I believe different to what happens in Banbury. The 53 offers if repeated over 4 years could be a challenge to one or both the Bicester schools, especially if there is also a grammar school locally.

      John Howson

      • And I would imagine a number of pupils do “cross the border” to the Royal Latin Grammar School in Buckingham!

  3. Surely away from Thame & Lord William ? & off to Aylesbury’s 3 grammar schools – again over the border in Buckinghamshire.

    • I will check, but I don’t think many cross into Bucks from Oxfordshire. I doubt if they would obtain a place at the grammar schools on distance grounds.

      John Howson

  4. Any data on that would be very interesting. My understanding is that pupils travel quite lengthy distances to get into the grammars, but this predominates on the borders.

  5. Perhaps worth noting that Bicester Technology Studio began the year significantly below the offered 53. And behind last year’s press “puff” of we are heavily over-subscribed EDUBASE shows 82 pupils in place across Year 10 & 12

  6. Thoughts on Oxfordshire UTC’s good rating from OFSTED?? Especially if you go to the DFE league tables & compare ALL its data with your bete noire school in Oxford??

    • Roger,

      Thank you for your comment

      The UTC is performing much better than many such 14-18 schools and hopefully fulfilling Lord Baker’s idea for such schools. There is still, however, a drop of in numbers between the end of Year 11 and the start of Year 12 that poses financial risks for the school. The funding formula is also a risk with such low numbers and expensive courses in terms of both equipment and resources. The lack of free transport also restricts some possible pupils from attending.

      However, with more closures nationally of 14-18 schools and some receiving less enthusiastic reports from Ofsted, the overall question of good idea: badly executed still stands to be answered even as Didcot shows what can be achieved.


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