RIC takes as its unofficial logo not an emblem of classical myth but a flying pig, a riposte to the cynicism that greeted the College’s chances of success when it started.
The many hundreds of students who have passed through its doors and the outstanding grades so many have achieved have long since successfully proved those cynics wrong.
RIC now teaches students from year 7 and boasts one of the largest independent sixth forms in Kent. Students over the years have gone on to flourish, sometimes despite earlier hurdles in their education.
The flying pig remains the name of our student magazine and is proudly immortalized on our newly installed musical gates sound sculpture, an ambitious public art project, perfectly embodying the College’s never forgotten aim of proving that pigs really can fly.
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.
Most important though are the number of former students, parents, staff and friends who keep in touch, return for legendary garden parties and follow the growth of the College with affection and enthusiasm.
The College was founded by Maths teachers Brian Pain and Simon de Belder.
Star Hill makeover
The development of the College has always been, like the education so many students remember, colourful and vibrant. Enough time has now elapsed for the students who attended the college in its early years to be sending their own offspring to study at RIC.
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. In the same year Brian visits Rochester on the Lady of the Lea sailing barge and finds the most derelict building he could 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 and is still often referred to as locally is born with a grand student roll of 6.
The simple representation of a Thames Sailing Barge set within Rochester Castle has been our logo for much of the time the College has been in existence.
The College has grown since it started in one house-25 Star Hill- and now occupies 14, mostly listed buildings. 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, a wonderfully civilized environment in which to study and work.
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.
Since 1990 we have welcomed a small number of Thai students who have won prestigious Government scholarships. The students all return to work at top academic or government posts after completion of their education in the UK.
Our well-established Art Department has a first class reputation and many students have gone on to become artists, graphic designers and illustrators.
RIC’s success is firmly based on a mature, relaxed, yet academically challenging working environment. At RIC we aren’t driven by an airy philosophy or a corporate mission statement. If we do something, we do it for a reason and because it contributes to our students doing well in their exams and enjoying school.
RIC regularly wins Good Schools Guide awards for its A level teaching in subjects ranging from Sociology to Maths, Chemistry, English Literature and Film Studies and Media.
The outstanding academic and extra curricular Geography provision at RIC has led to the award of the much-coveted Secondary Geography Quality Mark.
RIC was a pioneer of the Easter Revision course that is now offered by many independent schools and private providers. RIC’s work developing innovative courses for home-educated children was at the forefront of the growing trend towards flexi schooling options in the UK.
Our Lower School welcomed its first intake of 11 year olds in April 2007.
The model of education and pastoral care offered by the College was successfully tailored to fit the different requirements of younger children with Ofsted judging the quality of education as “outstanding” when they first inspected RIC as a secondary school.
The first students we met at the age of 10 and 11 and went on to write UCAS references for have now graduated.
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.
The Good Schools Guide, reviewing RIC said "It's hard to imagine better provision for an artist." Which was nice of them.
I would like to take the opportunity to say a very big thank you to RIC for educating my daughter from the age of 11 through to 18. Your school has nurtured and educated her to an extremely high standard. The care and understanding she received from everyone from the catering staff to the Principals was amazing. Thank you so much for helping to create such a beautiful, challenging, witty and intelligent young woman who is now so readily embracing university.
Free range education
Our refectory has been serving high quality, freshly prepared meals for years before the Jamie Oliver makeover of school dinners.
Sue Cooper started the canteen at the then fledgling Rochester Tutors in 1986. She says: “We 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.”
RIC was beyond instrumental for me. It completely reinvigorated my love of learning, and introduced me to my degree subject. I went in completely demoralised, and came out much more confident. It took away all the barriers which had held me back before, and enabled me to be who I had the potential to be.
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 always supported the environmental projects of the Woodland Trust. Management decisions about heating and lighting supplies made recently have reflected this commitment to environmentalism. We encourage older students to use public transport for their journey to College where possible. 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 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 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 strength of any school is the quality of its staff and over the years there have been many gifted teachers and colourful characters.
Simon de Belder retired in 2002 and at that point Pauline Bailey and Alistair Brownlow became Co Principals and Directors alongside Brian. Amongst the longest serving members of staff still involved at the College are independent listener Maeva Elliott, Vice Principals Ian Pay and Kelly Flatman as well as Jackie Clark (Art and Marketing), Paul Dutton (Physics), Lisa Herron (Film and Media), Ian Savage in the Maintenance department, Head of Art Robin Macintosh and our longest serving teacher, Dave Tittensor (Maths). We are lucky to have an excellent team- teachers, administrators and ancillary staff - all highly committed to the education and welfare of our students.
Those recently retired or moved on from RIC include Bursar Helen Harlow, Film teacher Dr Todd Dedman, Biology teacher Janet Cargill, Chemistry teacher Julian Cass, Economics teacher Jim Mumford, Biology teacher Dr Brenda Harrison, Cook Floss Hatton, Administrator Meg Chapman, Chemistry teacher Graham Anderton, Sociology teacher Paul Bucknall, Gardener Trevor Williams and German teacher and the first Head of Lower School Tony Smith.
The College has often been a home to tutors who eventually move on to academia including two former Heads of English- Dr Michael Flavin who is now at KCL and David Thornthwaite, now at Bristol University. Other A level tutors turned high flying academics include Economics teacher Dr Annika Johnson now at Bristol University, Art History teacher Dr Michael Walsh now at Nanyang Technical University, Singapore and Music teacher Dr Michael Downes now Director of Music at St Andrews University. Former RIC Physics and Astronomy teacher Dr Rad Topalovic is now Lead Astronomy Education Officer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
In the early days of the College Dr Ian McFox was a legendary Physics teacher whose 4pm Friday afternoon tests were a not to be missed highlight of his students’ week.
Amongst the most fondly remembered is Art teacher Pete Gowers.
Pete was an exceptional fine artist, both painter and sculptor and teacher of Art at Rochester Independent College for more than 25 years. Pete was an inspiration to generations of students, to local people who attended his popular life drawing classes and to his colleagues at RIC. The new visual arts centre due to open in 2023 will be named The Gowers Building.
Rochester specialises in helping students achieve their desired grades. For the first time I felt as though my dream of doing medicine could be possible because I was surrounded by people whose advice I trusted. It felt great to be taught in such a safe place where asking questions or saying you don't understand didn't seem like a weakness. The teachers were more than willing to help during the lesson time or outside. I'm so incredibly happy I had to retake my A levels because attending Rochester taught me the ability to learn and more importantly understand what I'm learning. But also to face failure and learn it's not the end of the world and you can always try again. Although I attended Rochester to gain good A levels what I actually gained during my time there was so much more.
Back to the classroom
RIC has a tradition of growing its own teachers. Perhaps most noteworthy is current Maths teacher Danny Chueng from Hong Kong who started at RIC not as a student but as a cook! Boarders soon appreciated his traditional roast dinners and baking skills. RIC awarded Danny a full scholarship to study Engineering at City University where he achieved a first class degree. He became a full British citizen in 2017.
Former College student Hoi Yung from Hong Kong 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 tutors 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.
One of the College’s earliest younger students was Alice Sage first came to RIC at the age of 13 back in 1998. She graduated with a first in Art History from UCL then taught at RIC and worked as our first Co-Curricular Coordinator before landing her dream V&A job.
Former students currently on the staff list include Admissions Administrators Rohan Froud and Graphic Design teacher Joe Becci, one of the first home-educated students to complete his education at the College.
In 2016 the next chapter of the College’s development began and we joined the Dukes Education Group. Our students now benefit from specialist university admissions advice from Oxbridge Applications and The Medic Portal. Our teachers benefit from exchanging ideas with staff from other top schools in the group like Cardiff Sixth Form College and Hampstead Fine Arts College.
As RIC grows we'll maintain an emphasis on what makes the College work: an informal, creative and friendly atmosphere, a firm belief that with hard work everyone is capable of academic success and a focus on the individual needs of each and every student who comes to us.
We are continuing to expand our facilities but will not lose the small and personal nature of the College environment. We believe education is not just about examination and 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.
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 updates from former students and teachers about their post-RIC lives.
RIC’s Project 2025 sees transformative plans for campus development. It’s a hugely significant moment in the College’s history, supported bysignificant investment from Dukes Education, our parent company. It will allow us to offer boarding for younger students and improve facilities across our Star Hill home.
RIC recently acquired the former Missions to Seamen Institute and the AF Smith & Sons building opposite the College’s main campus at Bardell Wharf. This will see the development of a residential village with study bedrooms and communal spaces for our boarders; a small cinema (to be called The Majestic as a homage to 2000+ seat movie palace that once sat on the corner of the High Street and Star Hill) a canteen and medical centre.
In consideration of these historically significant buildings, we will retain and restore the original facades.
We’re keen to reflect our priorities at the college in the design- health and wellness literally at the heart- with a wellbeing garden and gym in the atrium, mirroring the way we have the gardens at the centre of the existing campus. Our boarding students are not permitted to bring cars and there will be a smaller traffic footprint than if the site had been developed for housing.
Architecture nerds might pick up nods to Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation with the use of colour which will be echoed in the interiors. This building also had healthy community living and personal development at its heart and a school on the roof! It links the two historic naval ports of Marseille and Chatham neatly as well, and to the way ship-building references will be incorporated in the design and materials. Le Corbusier was no stranger to designing student accommodation with the Swiss Pavilion student housing in Paris.
We look forward to working with local residents and businesses as we try and contribute to the exciting development of the Sun Pier to Star Hill conservation area as a creative quarter. This flagship development will complement the Heritage Action Zone that surrounds it, helping to engage local communities through art and cultural projects.