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Waterfront UTC principal says schools in Medway not allowing him to speak to pupils

By Dean Kilpatrick, local democracy reporter

The principal of a college launched as part of the government's push to tackle the shortage of young people with technical skills has accused certain schools of banning him from speaking to their students because they fear losing government cash.

Paul Cottam said headteachers were scared of losing pupils due to the impact it would have on their budgets, while any departure of “capable students” would affect league table performance.

He was addressing councillors for the first time since the newly-branded Waterfront UTC - short for university technical college - in Chatham was rated as “inadequate” by Ofsted inspectors in March.

Pupils at the Waterfront UTC, then known as Medway UTC, show the Duke of York their work at its official opening in 2016. Picture: Andy Payton
Pupils at the Waterfront UTC, then known as Medway UTC, show the Duke of York their work at its official opening in 2016. Picture: Andy Payton

He spoke of changes made – including shortening the day for pupils, and ditching “one-month notice” contracts to ensure there are never staff shortages.

According to a presentation given on Tuesday, grades have already improved across the board and the majority of those surveyed think the UTC is better than their previous school.

But only 25 new pupils joined Year 12 in September this year, and Mr Cottam says schools in the Towns are preventing Waterfront from speaking to the “right kind of students”.

Waterfront UTC specialises in engineering, construction and design, and gives young people the chance to graduate with both traditional and technical qualifications.

Medway UTC buildingMystery PicturesPicture: Gary Browne FM4584426 (1898056)
Medway UTC buildingMystery PicturesPicture: Gary Browne FM4584426 (1898056)

Mr Cottam said: “All mainstream schools should be promoting careers advice, and as part of that they should allow access to us to deliver assemblies to the year groups appropriately.

“That’s something that isn’t working as smoothly as possible. There are certain trusts that won’t let us in no matter what – purely and simply because they don’t want to lose their students.

“I can see why they are hesitant in inviting us in, but it’s actually illegal. They shouldn’t be doing that – they’ve got no right to stop us coming in.”

Mr Cottam also told councillors the UTC – formerly called Medway UTC – has historically had students who were “already having difficulties”, and not moving “for the correct reason”.

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