Swimming against the tide in East Sussex
While colleges in many parts of the country are forced to fight local schools for a share of sixth-form students, one south coast college has shown what can be done with a clear vision for 16-19 education.
Sussex Coast College is on course to become the largest sixth-form provider in Hastings, having replaced three local school sixth forms that were closed following a strategic area review.
More impressive still is that the college's phenomenal growth - with pupil numbers rising from 40 students two years ago to 200 this year - has been done while achieving 100 per cent attainment at A-level last year. It is in the top 10 per cent of providers nationally for value added.
Graham Razey, deputy principal of the college, says: "Next year we are looking at 400 students at AS and A2 and that's two years ahead of schedule.
"We are finding that we are now drawing in young people from rural areas around Hastings who previously may have chosen to go to grammar schools in Kent or to Lewes or Bexhill sixth-form colleges. We are recruiting more teachers and while we started with 16 AS subjects we now have more than 35."
Ultimately, the college plans to grow its sixth form, called Academy 6 and housed in the college's brand new Station Plaza headquarters (pictured), to around 750 students.
Principal Sue Middlehurst believes that the success of Academy 6 is down to a willingness to use the best practice from across education. "We asked: `What are the key ingredients that make a sixth form successful?' and we took that good practice and implemented it in the college," she says.
Ms Middlehurst thinks the Sussex Coast model could be replicated in other parts of the country where there is an issue with multiple small school sixth forms, each with low student numbers and limited subject choice. "There could be collaborative models where colleges run shared services for sixth forms and students stay in their local school," she says.
The influx of sixth-form students, most of whom are aiming for higher education, has changed the profile of Sussex Coast College. "The college had been a predominantly vocational institution and the academy has brought the colleges a broader outlook and different sort of culture which has made us more balanced," Ms Middlehurst says.