THE woman at the helm of UTC Swindon says she is under no illusion that the school faces a long road ahead to improve just months after Ofsted rated them inadequate.

Executive principal Joanne Harper was brought in to transform the school’s dwindling image following the damning inspection by the education regulator in March.

After being placed into special measures, Ofsted concluded that UTC Swindon was “failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education” - taking a swipe at the school's leadership, teaching and pupil outcomes.

Now four months on, the school has set about trying to work on a number of issues raised by Ofsted by giving its curriculum a complete overhaul.

Joanne, who performs the same role at UTC Reading which was the first UTC to be rated outstanding across all areas, said a lot of visible improvements have been made already.

“I think the biggest point for me is the desire from the staff, students and parents to work with the leadership team to make the UTC the special place it should be,” she said.

“We are starting to see a clearer focus on the quality of teaching and learning and there is now an understanding from the students that we have higher expectations of them.”

UTC Swindon was once heralded as a shining example to other UTCs in the country when it opened in 2014. So much so that it was used as the backdrop for David Cameron’s manifesto launch in 2015.

But in recent months UTCs have plunged into the limelight due to lacking attainment rates among its existing students and difficulties to attract new ones.

In the Ofsted report back in March, one of the main areas of criticism was that UTC Swindon did not have the crucial links with industry that are supposed to be at the core of their curriculum.

Committed to rebuilding those vital relationships, Joanne has set about inviting industry partners into the school on a regular basis to raise the aspirations of students – many of whom have secured apprenticeships at some of the country’s leading engineering companies.

Joanne added: “The thing I have been most pleased with is the willingness to support changes from everyone to getting our industry partners into the college more because that had fallen by the way side.

“Another thing I have uncovered since being here is that the work with the industry partners was there but it was ad hoc and not carefully planned into the curriculum.”

To achieve a higher Ofsted rating, UTC Swindon will also join the Activate Learning Education Trust (ALET) from September – made up of four other schools, including high-performing UTC Reading and UTC Oxfordshire.

It is hoped that by being part of the trust, UTC Swindon will be helped by other colleges in terms of back office support as well as teaching resources.

Other changes that Joanne speaks honestly about include swapping tutor time for personal professional development sessions aimed at tailoring each teenager’s individual career aspirations.

UTC is also going to offer students the chance to gain industry level qualifications for students to gain while studying putting them on better footing to secure a job or apprenticeship come the end of their course.

Joanne added: “The most important thing in education which the government is pushing for is the individual progress of students which is more important than attainment.

"The problem at the UTC is that there is no normal starting point with students starting here at 16 and we are judged for the attainment levels for five years when they have only been with us for three.

“We get judged on our attainment levels with other schools and that being said, we monitor the entry points of the students and track the progress they make while they are with us.

“We know we are at the very early stages of a journey to improve. The encouraging signs are that everyone around us from the parents, stakeholders, students and staff are behind the UTC and want it to succeed.

“The one thing I will always say is that I never want to compare UTC Swindon to another school but what I do tell people is that we are better today than we were last week.”