How a small Norfolk college came to be rated one of the top 1pc in the country
PUBLISHED: 11:30 31 March 2018 | UPDATED: 08:59 01 April 2018
Happy, dedicated staff and students, a strong work ethic and a commitment to ensuring every young person reaches their potential are the main ingredients for a bright future, according to the head of a Norfolk sixth form college just rated among the top 1pc in the country.
But just how does a relatively small, rural, non-selective sixth form centre consistently achieve outstanding results – and attract students from as far as 25 miles away? KAREN BETHELL spoke to staff and students to find out more...
Set in rolling countryside outside an historic town dating back to shortly after the Norman Conquest, Reepham College was built as a £6 million addition to Reepham High School in 2009.
It has performed consistently well since and, last year, 89pc of its 238 students gained A Level grades between A* and C, with subjects boasting a 100pc A*-C success rate ranging from English language, French and further maths, to photography, physics and sociology.
Working on a detailed analysis of 2,890 colleges across the UK, the monitoring organisation Advanced Level Performance Systems (ALPS), recently placed the college in the top 1pc of post-16 further education centres.
Reepham High head teacher Tim Gibbs, who joined the school as head of PE 22 years ago, put the exceptional results down to the hard work of staff and students, “unbelievable” parental support and an ethos of treating young people with “a respect you expect to get back”.
“What I am most proud of is the way our staff dedicate themselves to delivering the high quality lessons that help our students get these top grades and allow us to produce countless graduates and undergraduates,” he said.
However, the college is not purely results-driven, Mr Gibbs added, and a strong focus is placed on supporting students, both in their educational and in their personal journeys.
“The thing that pins the high school to the ground is the relationships between the staff and the students and that applies at the college too,” he said.
“If kids here need help, they get it, and if they are in crisis, they get more help, I think we look after them really well.”
Staff hold weekly meetings to discuss students’ progress and while the college has a clear message of “work hard and do your best”, there are plenty of extra-curricular events and activities on offer, ranging from pancake races and Easter egg hunts, to ‘tutor Olympics’, which see staff take on students in a series of sporting challenges.
Young people also have a chance to work on a student-led allotment project, mentor primary and high school pupils and raise funds for charity as a member of the college council.
Paul Beale, who was head of maths at the high school before becoming college director last year, said that because the ALPS results covered a three-year period, they gave a clearer picture of the college.
“They aren’t just about one cohort of students, they confirm that we are doing a consistently good job,” he explained. “But, although I am incredibly proud and it is nice to be recognised, we are not data-driven and our focus is on individual students.
“It is a fine balance when you have young adults who are developing socially and academically and we have to help shape them so they can become independent learners, at the same time ensuring that they feel they are choosing their own futures.”
Around half of college students live in Reepham and surrounding villages, with the rest coming from as far afield as Norwich, Fakenham and King’s Lynn.
Eighteen-year-old deputy head boy Josh Sutton, who is studying for A Levels in economics, English literature and history, lives at Litcham, near Swaffham - an hour-long bus ride from Reepham.
Josh, who, after leaving college, is planning to take a gap year to volunteer with the War Graves Commission in Belgium, said: “It suited me here and there were actually around 15 or 20 people wanting to come from my area, so they put a special bus on. The college has an awesome track record and when you come here you know you are going to work, which takes the pressure off at home.”
Senior deputy head girl Hannah Stone, who joined the college after taking GCSEs at Taverham High School, near Norwich, plans to study medical neuroscience at university.
She said: “Coming to the open day, I just got a sense that this is quite a constructive environment, which was something that attracted me because I want to do well.”
But not all students are expected to go on to further study - some will go straight in to work or take up apprenticeships - and the college prides itself on catering for all levels of ability.
Mr Gibbs said: “The culture here is simply ‘work hard and do your best’ and the fact that so many of our former students still come back and visit us shows the unbelievable bond that exists between them and college staff.”
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