ric- free range education
Much to the astonishment and consternation of some more traditional establishments ‘Rochester Tutors’ has grown since 1984 year on year and as Rochester Independent College is now one of the UK’s most well known and highly regarded alternatives to traditional independent education. We will celebrate our 30th birthday in 2014. The College mascot continues to be the ubiquitous Flying Pig, from which the name of our student magazine is also taken. When Brian Pain and Simon de Belder started the College in 1984 many of their friends used this proverbial piece of cynicism to describe the likely chances of the College being successful. Since then many hundreds of students have passed through the doors of the College on Star Hill and gone on to fly. Click here for an article about the College from the Independent Schools Council.
star hill makeover
1984 was the year the first Apple Computer went on sale with Ridley Scott’s timely Orwellian ad launching it. Chatham’s Royal Navy dockyards were closed by the Thatcher government, The Smiths played at the University of Kent at Canterbury, the Soviet Union boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics, Sevenoaks School went fully co educational and Prince Philip visited Rochester to inspect the improved pedestrianised high street. Founded in the same year, the development of the College has always been, like the education so many students remember, colourful and vibrant. For those without long memories, the acquisition of properties now occupied by the College ran thus (with just a little rewriting of history in some minor details). In 1984 Brian visits Rochester on the Lady of the Lea sailing barge and finds the most derelict building he can to start a school. He then talks the bank manager into lending him and Simon £40,000 and so Rochester Tutors as the College was then known is born with a grand student roll of 6.
In 1986 no 37 Star Hill comes on the market and incredibly the bank is again impressed by the presentation given to them by the smartly dressed Pain and de Belder. The student roll rises to a massive 40 necessitating the purchase the following year at a frighteningly serious sum of no. 39 Star Hill. In 1988 no.27 is invaded to provide the fire regulation compliant student accommodation needed to house the increasing numbers of residential students some of whom seem to be flooding over from half way round the world drawn by tales of legendary teaching. In 1990 Simon presents himself at the bank with a particularly holey cricket jumper and matching beard to obtain funding for the Good Companions Club on New Road. During the 1990s numbers 15, 33 and 35 Star Hill are snapped up, as is the Thomas Watson building at 252 the High Street. Into the next millennium and the College purchases 17 and 19 Star Hill and 258 High Street, the former Gainsborough Hotel.
Not only do all these acquisitions make sense in creating a connected campus they also surround sufficient land to allow the creation of a very pleasant city garden. The College buildings are all listed and provide a wonderfully civilized environment in which to study and work. We celebrated our 25th birthday in 2009. Our eco-friendly underground ‘Womble’ building in the College opened in 2012. This exciting development has been designed to house a large lecture hall accommodating up to 100 people. It also provides a new home for the College’s Drama and Theatre Studies provision. The copper canopied roof is transformed into an open-air theatre auditorium in the summer months with productions from visiting troupes and students. Solar heating, low voltage electrical installation and modern construction techniques will combine to give the building a minimal carbon footprint.
Simon de Belder took a much deserved early retirement in 2002 and left for the Isle of Wight. The College is now run by Brian Pain– still happily destroying calculators and teaching Maths in a shed at the bottom of the garden- with former College student, teacher and parent Pauline Bailey and English teacher Alistair Brownlow as Co Principals and Directors of what is now Rochester Independent College Ltd. Long serving members of staff still involved are Cook now turned Bursar Helen Harlow and teachers Brenda Harrison (Biology), Tony Smith (German), Sue Cooper (EFL), Jackie Clark (Art and Marketing), Dave Tittensor (Maths) and Jim Mumford (Economics and now Exams Officer extraordinaire). We are lucky to have built up over recent years an excellent team- teachers, administrators and ancillary staff -who are all highly committed to the education and welfare of our students.
The College’s academic credibility was built on the excellence of our Mathematics and Science teaching but we have always been committed to offering a full curriculum and broad education. Our well established Art Department has a first class reputation and many students have gone on to become artists, graphic designers and illustrators.
RIC regularly wins awards for its A level results in subjects ranging from Sociology to Film and Media. Most recently we won Good Schools Guide awards for A level English Literature in 2011 and Film Studies in 2012.
While perhaps not at the cutting edge of chic we do feel that we have been at the forefront of educational trends. Being independently spirited as well as being outside of the mainstream we have had the freedom to structure the College around what works for our students and staff, rather than being compelled to follow the latest directives. Starting with the intensive resit courses which established our reputation we have gone on to develop courses for an exceptionally wide range of students, tailoring by fitting courses around those who enrolled years before personalised learning became a government mantra.
Our success is firmly based on a mature, relaxed yet academically challenging working environment, an invitational one in fact- to hijack another fashionable piece of educationbabble. The necessity of lifelong learning is blindingly obvious and has been demonstrated at the College by the number of students and staff who have benefited from academic sponsorship, as well as the number of former students who are now on our payroll! Our refectory has been serving high quality, freshly prepared meals for years before the Jamie Oliver makeover of school dinners. Chips have not appeared on the menu once in 21 years! Sue Cooper started the canteen at the then fledgling Rochester Tutors in 1986. She says: “I always had the belief that catering staff have been massively undervalued, underpaid and consequently increasingly de-skilled. Our staff were always paid at the top end of the scale and expected to learn about real cooking, real washing up and real food storage – not ever about simply accepting deliveries and reheating meals they had no knowledge of or interest in. We have had to fight not only against the prevailing attitude of contempt for workers in catering but also against the way in which common sense has been replaced by paranoia caused by too many rules. Our kitchen now produces not only excellent food for staff and students alike, but also staff with ambition and skills who have gained the confidence to move into other careers both related and unrelated to catering. We encourage our residential students to work part time in the kitchen and learn skills and respect cooks!”
The College was a pioneer of the Easter Revision course that is now a well established feature of the educational landscape, offered by enormous numbers of both independent and state schools. The College’s work in developing innovative courses for home educated children was at the forefront of the growing trend towards flexi schooling options in the UK.
As the political climate shifts to an increasing recognition that state funding of education does not require the exclusive state delivery of it Rochester Independent College has over the years worked in partnership with local schools, providing revision courses booked and paid for out of school budgets and offering advice for students in difficult situations.
Education seems to be in a state of permanent revolution with initiative after initiative leaving many schools- and their students- unsettled and disrupted. We are lucky at the College in being able to remain student centered in everything we do. Too often an obsession with goals, targets, performance management benchmarks and statistical appraisals leads to a loss of focus on the student as an individual. Our teachers do not spend their time locked away in meetings plotting new ways to improve their “curriculum delivery” but in the classroom doing what is important and what they enjoy.
We are continuing to expand our facilities but have no intention of losing the small, friendly and personal nature of the College environment. We believe education is not just about examination and that this applies to staff as well as students. We hope to create a lasting, dynamic and innovative educational experience that will make a true contribution not only to the education and personal development of the students we teach, but to everyone who works here and more ambitiously to the world in general. The College attracts a fair amount of attention in the local and national press and a feature article by Liz Lightfoot appeared in The Independent plus the College was featured as a non uniform school on the Channel 4 programme Gok’s Teens: The Naked Truth.
a green school
The College is continuing to develop exciting international and environmental projects, interests that are embedded in our ethos, our curriculum and our programme of trips, exchange visits and charity fund raising work.
The College has for example always supported the environmental projects of the Woodland Trust and continues to support and promote the work of the Kent Wildlife Trust. Management decisions about heating supplies made recently have reflected this commitment to environmentalism. We encourage older students to use public transport for their journey to College where possible and those who persistently park their cars in the visitors’ car park are liable to have random cement mixers chained to their vehicles, released only on payment of a punishing fine to a worthy tree planting cause. The College gardens are part of Medway’s new biodiversity corridor and have won awards from The Kent Wildlife Trust.
We also promote recycling and the limiting of waste. Environmental Science is offered at both GCSE and A level and Environmental issues are an important part of the Lower School PSHE programme. Students regularly use the College gardens as a resource for both teaching and recreation and volunteer to help in its maintenance. The College offered its facilities to the Anti Airport at Cliffe Campaign. The aim is to encourage students to accept responsibility for their behaviour, show initiative and understand how they can contribute to community life. The College has a policy of supporting local bookshops, maintenance, garages and food suppliers rather than chains.
The next few years at RIC are going to be challenging and exciting. In 2011,- according to the KM and Lloyds TSB- we were one of the 50 fastest growing companies in Kent!
At the same time schools, even independent ones, have never faced as much regulatory red tape as they do now. The College has to satisfy a range of inspection bodies while not compromising our core values, offering students the academic and social freedoms appropriate to their age with an emphasis on personal responsibility and self discipline. Our successful bid to join the Independent Schools’ Association was an important part of our evolution from being primarily a centre for A level students into a distinctive independent school. As we grow we are determined to maintain an emphasis on what makes the College work, an informal and friendly atmosphere, a firm belief that everyone is capable of academic success and a focus on the individual needs of each and every student who comes to us.
We are committed to widening access to the education offered by the College by extending and formalising our portfolio of scholarship and bursary opportunities. Over the last few years we have been building up specialised staffing and investing in physical resources to deal with an increasing number of younger students. Our Lower School welcomed its first intake of 11 year olds in April 2007 and the model of education and pastoral care offered by the College is being tailored to fit the different requirements of younger children.
Always looking for new ways to broaden the range of its educational interests, Rochester Independent College was also involved in a Heritage Lottery Fund project to train apprectices as a new generation of shipwrights, skilled in the art of building traditional boats and sailing barges from wood. Apprentices employed by Standard Quay Ltd, Faversham were trained over the next year and a half to progress to a level 3 qualification. The College worked with the National Sea Training Centre in conjunction with the Cambria Trust to deliver these courses which are important in ensuring that specialist skills are passed on to future generations.
To make the more indie-spirited development of the College work we are always keen to involve those who have known us and, hopefully benefited from what we have provided in the past. We welcome any interest from those who may be interested in joining the team and are always interested in receiving cyber updates from former students and teachers about their post Rochester Tutors/Rochester Independent College lives. https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/HMPQDW3
RIC has a tradition of growing its own teachers! Former College student Hoi Yung spent 3 years back in Rochester as a teacher of Maths. Hoi previously attended the College to learn English and study for his A levels. He did exceptionally well, gaining Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry in a year. This secured him a place at Imperial College. Hoi says: “As an ex student of the College it was great to have the opportunity to return and work alongside those who taught me.” Hoi finished his PhD in Singapore. Another former student, Dr Sheetal Patel taught alongside her own A level Biology tutor, Dr Brenda Harrison and spent 3 years as our UCAS Advisor. Sheetal joined RIC from Rochester Grammar School, took A levels here as a sixth former and proceeded to secure a first class degree in Genetics from UCL, an MSc Distinction in Bioinformatics from York and a PhD! Alice Sage who graduated with a starry first in Art History from UCL taught at RIC from 2008 before landing her dream V&A job last year. Currently teaching is Head of English and Warwick graduate David Thornthwaite.
Click here for our international alumni facebook page.
“Rochester Independent College stands out as a notable ‘alternative’ exception for its informal ethos and relaxed learning environment, though rigorous teaching and a strong focus on preparation for assessment, recognised in a recent outstanding Ofsted report, suggest that it might be better characterised as akin to a successful Swedish Free School.”
adam smith institute report, 2011