Troubled technical college set to join Olympus Trust

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Bristol Technology & Engineering Academy, New Road, Stoke Gifford.

A Stoke Gifford college that provides specialist education for 14 to 18 year-olds in the engineering and environmental technology sectors looks set to join the Olympus Academy Trust after running into academic and financial difficulties.

Bristol Technology and Engineering Academy (BTEA), located in New Road on part of the former Filton High School site, opened in September 2013 as the area’s first university technical college (UTC).

Courses at UTCs are grounded in the core subjects of English, maths and science, and the curriculum provides a blend of academic and practical learning. Each UTC is guided by a sponsor university and has close ties to local businesses and industry.

BTEA’s academic sponsor is the University of the West of England its employer sponsors are Airbus and GKN Aerospace, with support from Rolls-Royce.

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The UTC programme, launched in 2010, was the brainchild of former education secretary Lord Baker. There are currently 48 UTCs in England, eleven having closed in the intervening years. Many of the colleges have been affected by low student numbers and the ensuing financial difficulties.

BTEA, which has capacity for 440 students, got off to a flying start, receiving a ‘good’ grading from Ofsted on its first inspection in April 2015 when there were 333 students on roll. In their report, inspectors said: “The academy is well on its way to meeting its vision of becoming a centre of excellence in teaching engineering and environmental technologies.”

However, by the time of the next Ofsted inspection in October 2018, student numbers had dwindled to just 219 and the college was graded ‘requires improvement’ in all five categories of assessment.

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A recent development, in May 2021, has seen BTEA issued with a Financial Notice to Improve by the Education and Skills Funding Agency, which criticises the college for its “weak financial position” and expresses “continued concerns on governance and oversight of financial management by the board”.

A joint statement issued on 25th March this year by BTEA and Olympus (of which the nearby Abbeywood Community School is a member) said:

“BTEA’s Board of Directors has been talking with the Olympus Board of Trustees for some time about potential benefits for both organisations in BTEA joining Olympus. To this end, discussions are ongoing with the Department for Education about BTEA joining Olympus in September 2021 and operating in conjunction with Abbeywood from that point forward.”

BTEA’s directors have received approval to pause admissions into Years 10 at BTEA for the September 2021 intake, whilst plans to join Olympus progress. BTEA continues to welcome applications into Year 12.

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A further joint statement issued on 31st March said BTEA had asked Olympus to provide leadership support for the remainder of the academic year following the recent departure of the BTEA principal. Consequently, Abbeywood headteacher Dave Howe has now taken on the role of principal at BTEA. He remains headteacher at Abbeywood, where he will be supported by a deputy headteacher as operational lead.

The statement concluded:

“Both Abbeywood and BTEA will be fully operational with a ‘business as usual’ approach during terms 5 and 6.”

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This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of the Stoke Gifford Journal magazine (on page 26). The magazine is delivered FREE, nine times a year, to over 5,000 homes in Stoke Gifford, Little Stoke and Harry Stoke. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.

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