reinventing the a level retake tutorial college
“Last year my results were CCB and I only got my insurance offer at uni which was Manchester Met. I actually went for one week but felt disappointed because I knew I could have done better and my results didn’t reflect my capabilities. I left Manchester Met and had an interview at Rochester where I was reassured and encouraged to aim higher. It has helped to raise my ambition and realise my potential – my previous school told me I would never get into a Russell Group university. The teachers have made me truly interested in my subjects and see their relevance in the world. I’ve got five offers from Exeter, Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Newcastle.”
a level resit boarding student 2012-13
Many students who miss their A level grades and university places have traditionally faced the prospect of spending an unplanned gap term or even a year retaking their A levels at independent sixth form tutorial colleges.
“Kent’s best kept educational secret.”
kent on sunday
Martin Amis who as a 70s literary enfant terrible worked his way through 14 schools and three crammers immortalised the image of the quick fix A level retake college in his first novel ‘The Rachel Papers.’ He describes a tour of the A level tutorial college as “nothing more ambitious …than to show me it wasn’t a workhouse or a blacking factory.” In Terence Rattigan’s recently revived ‘The Browning Version’ the broken and cuckolded school master Crocker-Harris faces a future at a crammer, a fate represented as exile to a kind of educational Siberia. Even today ‘Country Life’ reports that independent sixth form colleges specialise in taking in the “the good, the bad and the ugly” who have crashed at traditional independent schools and need a no frills, high cost A level resit educational accident and emergency service.
ric goes to the movies
The best A level retake teaching at so called retake crammer colleges though was often innovative and stimulating and the atmosphere cultivated was of hard work without the extra curricular distractions of independent school life. The top tutorial colleges were famed for employing bright young teachers, stripping away the petty rules of more traditional settings and operating an effective system of testing and exam practice. Most were based in central London or in Oxford and Cambridge. Flexible timetabling and a bespoke approach to resit strategies and top university entrance were key hallmarks.
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. Rochester Independent College was established as Rochester Tutors in the same year by two London based Maths teachers. Principals at tutorial colleges tended to be practicing teachers- more often than not of Maths- rather than just administrators. The tutorial college retake crammers pioneered the Easter revision courses that are now an established feature of the educational landscape. Some of the best private colleges have evolved into distinctive and high performing independent schools while still offering second chance opportunities for motivated A level resit students including those looking for a distinctive boarding experience. Reflecting this evolution, Rochester Independent College is now accredited by the Independent Schools Council. We are an international school, welcoming students from all over the world into our on campus boarding. Read the full history of the College here.
“Going to Rochester Independent College for A levels was like going to university before going to university.”
david thornthwaite, former ric student, warwick graduate and current ric english teacher
refreshingly different from year 7 to sixth form
At RIC we have always had a broader vision of education than our A level tutorial retake college beginnings might suggest and have evolved into a fully accredited co educational day and boarding school. Unlike many London tutorial colleges the majority of our staff are full time. Many former students have returned to work in teaching and administration roles at the College. Our boarding students all live on campus and our pastoral care and support is as highly structured as our teaching. Our students’ A level grades make us one of the top 5 non selective schools in London and the South East. We won a 2011 Good Schools Guide Award for A level English Literature results and another in 2012 for our Film Studies results. Our A level retake students benefit from being part of a whole school community whether they are day or boarding.
The College has had a campus makeover and the finishing touches put to a £2million redevelopment. The historically distinctive site with listed buildings linked by award winning wildlife gardens creates a unique sense of place to explore and in which to study and work.
At the heart of a designated conservation area, RIC is housed in restored buildings enhanced by modern design features. New for 2012 is Underhill Hall, a home for RIC Drama with seating for 100 people. The copper canopied roof transforms into an open-air auditorium with productions from visiting theatre companies and students. Low voltage electrical installation and modern construction techniques combine to give the underground building a minimal carbon footprint.
Next year will see a dedicated arts and crafts centre established and a landmark pair of steel sculptural musical gates designed by Faversham based sound sculptor and musician Henry Dagg constructed. Dagg was nominated for a Kent Public Art Award for transforming his garden fence into a glockenspiel, has toured with Bjork and performed for Prince Charles. Rochester’s newest piece of public art is set to attract national interest when completed.
Students in our Visual Arts department are now as successful as those studying Maths and Sciences and win places at Central Saint Martins and other leading art schools each year. Two start on the Slade’s degree course in 2013. The artist, poet, musician and provocateur Billy Childish is an RIC Visiting Lecturer. Billy was closely associated with the Young British Artists, founded the Stuckist movement and has been described by fellow artist Peter Doig as “one of the most outstanding, and often misunderstood, figures on the British art scene.” Billy is the only RIC member of staff as far as we are aware to have inspired the name of a Kylie Minogue album and to have counted Kurt Cobain, Jack White and Madonna amongst his celebrity fanbase. Click here to see Billy interviewing himself on The Tate Gallery website. The College holds an Artsmark award from The Arts Council of England and in 2013 is sponsoring The Ralph Steadman Art and Design Scholarship. The Good Schools Guide said in 2014 that it was hard to imagine a better place for an artist than RIC.
“The results are outstanding and many congratulations. I will have no hesitation in recommending RIC.”
mark lascelles, lower master and acting head, king’s school, canterbury, 2010
a reassuringly academic, fresh alternative to traditional independent schools
RIC is a member of the Independent Schools Association, accredited by the Independent Schools Council and we welcome children from the age of 11 as well as Royal Thai Government King’s Scholarship students on accelerated one year A level courses. Nine of these high flyers came to us in September 2011 and a record three won places at Trinity College, Cambridge. 15 RIC students have gone to Cambridge in the last five years. The Adam Smith Institute compared RIC in a 2011 report on UK private schools to a “successful Swedish free school.”
“The teaching at Rochester is rigorous and tailored to the best possible exam results. It offers a broad education combining its original focus on getting students into competitive courses such as medicine and dentistry with a new emphasis on the creative arts.”
liz lightfoot, the independent, 2010
A level and GCSE resits are now only a small part of what RIC does, alongside two year A level courses and complete secondary education from year 7 up. Our extra curricular provision is as impressive-and as equally valued-as our successful exam oriented tuition. All benefit from an effective personal tutor system and high quality university admissions guidance. Ofsted rate our spiritual, moral and cultural provision as “outstanding” as well as our teaching and assessment and overall quality of education.
Amis got to Oxford on the back of his time at an independent sixth form tutorial college. More recent products of the tutorial college system include musicians Will Young, Patrick Wolf and Lily Allen and television journalists Ben Scotchbrook and Daisy McAndrew. Less famed are the many who, after retaking A levels, realised their ambitions to become doctors, vets, dentists, publishers, academics, film makers, lawyers, illustrators, fashion designers, magazine editors, accountants and newspaper journalists.
“With the support of my teachers and classmates the intensive A level course has been a great opportunity to have another shot at successfully applying for medicine.”
vinitha soundararajan, joined RIC from chatham grammar, starts medicine at uea in september 2012
Typical of the A level resit students who come to RIC is Matthew Sarstedt from Cheshire who was adamant disappointing A level grades would not hold him back: “On results day I knew I had to resit my A levels – I was determined to study dentistry rather than going through Clearing.” He continues:
“When you do A level resits, a lot of universities raise their entrance criteria, so I had to get AAA. To get that extra edge, I also took two more AS levels. If you are planning to resit, you have to go above and beyond, and give something extra.”
First time round Matthew was rejected from all the Dental schools without interview. Applying from RIC as an A level resit student- when it should have been harder to get in- he received offers, achieved his grades and started at Sheffield University in September 2010.
Matthew adds: “I chose Rochester Independent College to retake my A levels for dentistry because I thought it was the nicest independent sixth form tutorial college, and it seemed very friendly. It had a boarding facility unlike other private retake colleges I looked at, which appealed to me. I wanted to go away because my friends had gone away to university – I would have had no life if I’d stayed at home. Going to Rochester to resit my A levels for dentistry gave me the chance to meet people retaking their A levels in subjects like Chemistry who were in the same boat as me.”
It can be effective to opt to retake A levels and not accept a second choice course. Universities do recognise the commitment of students who opt to retake their A levels and leading Russell Group universities give offers to RIC’s A level resit students every year. Crucially students considering whether to retake their A levels need good advice about which universities and courses will consider A level resit students. Most coveted universities however do still make offers to A level resit students for most courses although they sometimes ask for higher grades.
“I’m delighted to see the results of Judd students retaking A levels at RIC and offer my congratulations to the five students who did so this year. We do recommend RIC to our students who are looking for further support and need to retake A levels.”
robert masters, headmaster, the judd School, tonbridge
Even top institutions like The Royal Veterinary College still consider A level retake students, as demonstrated by the vet science offer Amelia Liddell from King’s Canterbury received after a one term A level resit course. As well as retaking A level Chemistry and Spanish at RIC Amelia took AS Sociology from scratch in a term, achieving AAA and continued to broaden her work experience. Writing to RIC in October 2011 Amelia said:
“I’ve just finished my first week of vet lectures and I just wanted to thank you for getting me here; I wouldn’t have had a chance without your help. We managed more in that one term than I had done in my whole two years of chemistry and you can definitely take the credit for that. On results day last year we had a big family discussion and we looked at the options for retaking. If you are willing to work hard then the teachers will give you all the help you need. I don’t think anyone goes on a resit course to slack though!”
A level resit students like Matthew and Amelia now share Star Hill with those who join RIC at the age of 11. Cecelia Johnson, like so many 16 year olds across Kent in August 2011, was anxiously awaiting her GCSE results. Uniquely however, her grades were as much a landmark in the history of her school as they were important to her.
While RIC students have been winning top GCSE and A level results since 1984, Cecelia is the first pupil to take her GCSEs at the College after joining at the age of 11 in Year 7.
Cecelia is celebrating 12 top GCSE results, including double A* success in English and English Literature which she is continuing at A level in RIC’s sixth form, alongside Fine Art, History of Art and Sociology. Cecelia says: “I just love it here and can’t imagine being at school anywhere else.” A radio feature on some of the first younger students to join the College is here.
While Cecelia was the pioneer, RIC is now a well established, non selective alternative for children in year 7. Uniquely in Kent, children who join at 11+ don’t wear a uniform and are on first name terms with their teachers. It combines the best of the tutorial college focus on exam success with the structures appropriate for younger children. Cecelia says: “Everyone just works really well together. It’s a relaxed environment but I don’t think I’d have done as well at GCSE if things were more pressurised.”
“We were blown away by RIC on our first visit. It was clear from the moment we walked through the door that the staff here really ‘get’ teenagers. The excellence of what you’re doing – and the integrity, passion, pragmatism and good humour with which you appeared to be doing it – convinced us it was the right place for our son. Four years later as he is about to start his GCSE year we’re so glad we made the move.”
“Thank you so much for all you’ve done for Tom, giving him the opportunity to realise his potential. He is now looking forward to studying for an MEng in Computer Science at Imperial College- two years ago I’d never have thought this was possible. The ethos at RIC was ideal for Tom and allowed him to be himself- he has so grown in confidence it’s a joy to see. All the teachers have been brilliant, and the students have been fantastic too. His personal tutor, Todd, pitched it absolutely right so he settled in well. He also gave me lots of support! Thank you to all at RIC for a school that doesn’t conform to the traditional structures but embraces young people whoever they are and makes them feel happier in themselves.”