Good Schools guideAn Inspector Calls- RIC’s Good Schools Guide Review

Schools can’t pay or lobby to be included in the fiercely independent and widely respected ‘The Good Schools Guide’.

Only 1200 of the UK’s 30,000 primary and secondary schools are chosen to be featured in what has become the country’s most talked about parents’ manual where the reviews are famously opinionated, unbiased and no nonsense.

2013 is the first time Rochester Independent College has featured and we were told it was very unusual for a school to have a report with such a degree of glowing quotes and lack of criticism from both parents and pupils!

The College is described as a “place for individuals” where “the students are a strikingly nice bunch and there’s a lovely air of tolerance and warmth.” The review quotes one mother saying: ‘That playground talk, everyone wanting their child to be in the top set, you don’t have that” but makes the point that this lack of “school gate competitiveness” and traditional formality is not at the expense of academic results or artistic high flying: “The top five student destinations in the last eight years are Leeds, Nottingham, Sussex, Cambridge and Imperial. Two RIC students have won places on the prestigious Fine Art degree course at UCL’s The Slade School.”

Describing the no uniform, first name terms environment, the review observes that parents say the teachers are ‘very passionate about their subjects’ and another pupil, comparing the teaching to that at his former grammar school said: ‘The teaching is of a better quality and the teachers know their subject to a greater depth.’

The College is judged “a sound investment”, noting that parents’ money won’t be spent on “the trappings of a public school – no mahogany-rich headmaster’s study, certainly no suave head in a handmade suit.”

The review notes “a firm concentration on exam technique, but still the school isn’t seen as an exam factory.” Subjects singled out include Maths, English Literature and Film Studies (RIC A level results in these subjects won Good Schools Guide Awards in 2011 and 2012 respectively) and the Visual Arts provision: “It would be hard to find better provision for an artist.”

Highlights include:

“Testing means you can’t get delusions, you really know where you are at any point,’ said one pupil. Another, who was told by her grammar school that she needed to ‘lower her sights’ said: ‘The teaching style is completely different, we are tested all the time and my grades have gone up consistently.’”

“Many students transfer here after poor progress at AS or A level and the effect can be dramatic. One pupil told us he was predicted to get Ds and Es at AS; he moved from his grammar to the college in February, and in July he achieved three As at AS and an A at A level. Another student moved after getting a U at AS, and she says, ‘In my first two weeks here I learned more than I had in the whole previous year.’ ”

GCSEs are offered in six disciplines – fine art, graphics, photography, textiles, ceramics, and 3D. Some students take three of these to A level, which enables them to bypass a foundation year. There is terrific work on display, and facilities include a dark room and ceramics room. Dominik Klimowski, former BBC online picture editor, teaches photography, and local artist Billy Childish is a visiting lecturer.”

“Parents especially appreciate the efforts made to ensure each pupil gains the best possible grade. One said: ‘There are a lot of extra lessons before exams, in the holidays and so on. They will do as much as they can if they think you can improve your grade.’”

“Another praised the fact that they don’t charge for extra tuition in the evenings and holidays, adding: ‘I was concerned about my son’s maths and suggested getting him some tuition. They said it was their responsibility, and I should not be looking for tutors. They did some extra work with him and he got an A, so I was ecstatic.’”

“There’s a rich cultural programme – a drama theatre hosts visiting theatre companies and art shows, and the school’s on-site cinema regularly hosts the National Schools’ Film week.”

“Other pupils have come from grammars where they felt under too much pressure, or from large schools where they felt overwhelmed, and all say they are learning better and enjoying school more here. ‘I worried a lot at my old school, here it’s a better environment,’ said one. ‘At my old school if you improved, they didn’t notice,’ said another.”

“Parents all speak highly of the pastoral care and the growth in confidence they have witnessed in their children. One has three children at the school and she says: ‘They are all very different but they are spot on at all of their weaknesses and strengths.’”

“Those whose strengths lie outside the traditionally alpha areas of academic or sporting have their own kudos.  ‘There is a lot more respect for art and creativity,’ said one pupil.”

“The campus is as unique as the school. It started as one terraced house, but as the school expanded, it gradually bought up 13 properties in adjoining roads, including a Georgian terrace which houses the boarding accommodation. What would once have been the back gardens to these houses now form the grounds where there are ancient apple trees and wild garden areas, paths to secret nooks and crannies, a viewing platform to climb – and an oversized garden shed where Brian likes to hold his maths classes. Students work on garden projects such as the allotment as part of their DofE award, and the gardens have won a Kent Wildlife Trust Gold Award. The theatre in the grounds is known as the Womble building – underground houses the theatre space, whilst over the top there’s an outdoor seating area which can be used as an open-air auditorium. Work is underway on an igloo-like structure in the garden, which will be used as an outdoor classroom, shelter, and quiet space. Intended to inspire and motivate, it will have a central roof opening for cloud watching.”

To access the full GSG report on Rochester Independent College visit the website here.

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