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Reinventing the A level Retake Tutorial College

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Abigail Pile, Class of 2013

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.

Abigail Pile, Class of 2013

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.

Susan Morley, Former Parent

Having paid for private education for our three children since they were small, we assumed after they achieved sound GCSE results that they would secure good A level grades. This didn’t happen. Without moving them all to Rochester Independent College, they wouldn’t have been able to achieve their dreams.

Susan Morley, Former Parent

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 schoolmaster 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.

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 private 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. If students were punctual and behaved well they would be treated with a degree of freedom unheard of in a traditional boarding school and more akin to a university. Most of the crammers 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.

Ben Wilson, Class of 2013

Most of the teachers at RIC had teaching styles and generally attitudes that you would not find in any other school.  Their intelligence and their willingness to help you learn was clear. In other schools I think progress can be hindered by making teachers jump through certain hoops of political correctness that may not necessarily be to the advantage of learning, especially by sixth form age. At RIC you didn't have that problem.

Ben Wilson, Class of 2013

Principals at tutorial colleges tended to be practicing teachers- more often than not of Maths- rather than administrators. The tutorial college retake crammers pioneered the Easter revision courses that are now an established feature of the educational landscape. Many colleges were at the forefront of welcoming international students to study in the UK. 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 and The Boarding Schools Association. We are an international school, welcoming students from all over the world into our on campus boarding.

David Thornthwaite, Former RIC student, Warwick Graduate and Current Head of English

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 Head of English

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 A level retake students benefit from being part of a whole school community whether they are day or boarding.

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. 

The Good Schools Guide said that it was hard to imagine a better place for an artist than RIC.

Why retake?

Previous students perhaps sum it up best. One said: “"Studying at RIC raised my confidence and ambition - my previous school told me I would never get into a Russell Group university." Another adds: “At RIC the teachers prepared me for the exams, inspired me and made me love the subject again. I went from a D to an A.” Each year we see students make dramatic progress. The average grade improvement is 2, taking Cs comfortably to As and Bs to A*s. Students are often transformed after an A level retake course, their confidence restored and better equipped to deal with a higher education course.

Mark Lascelles, Lower Master and Acting Head, King's School Canterbury

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

A reassuringly academic, fresh alternative to traditional independent schools

Liz Lightfoot, The Independent

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

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. We welcome children from the age of 11 as well as Royal Thai Government scholarship students on accelerated one year A level courses.

Amis got to Oxford on the back of his time at an independent sixth form tutorial college. 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.

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Vinitha Soundararajan, now studying medicine at UEA

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, now studying medicine at UEA

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 chose Sheffield University.

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.

Robert Masters, The Judd School, Tonbridge

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, The Judd School, Tonbridge
Current Parents

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.

Current Parents