Rochdale Sixth Form College was graded outstanding in its first Ofsted inspection. It’s good news in a borough that doesn’t always make the headlines for the right reasons, says Julian Appleyard

Rochdale Sixth Form College opened in September 2010 to address underachievement in the area. For many years young people had opted to travel out of the borough and the challenge was to convince the people of Rochdale that a first-class academic institution specialising in A-level education could be established that would allow students to progress to higher education.

Progression had traditionally been low – in its report “Degrees of Success”,  the Sutton Trust had Rochdale in the bottom three authorities for young people progressing to higher education.

The college has come a long way in three years. We have tried to keep a simple mantra of high expectations , an exclusive focus on individual one-to-one work in and outside of the classroom and a relentless focus on the core business of teaching and learning. It sounds very cliched when put like that, but we simply have processes that ensure no student gets left behind.

Precise tracking, powerful intervention and an unstinting belief in the ability of our students have been critical. Our approach to teaching and learning is one that has not been initiative-led. We essentially are happy for our staff to focus upon lessons that ensure every  student makes progress in an environment where pace and active participation are non-negotiables.

The one-to -one approach is a central feature. The context of Rochdale Sixth Form College is such that there are only seven sixth-form colleges that have less qualified students. We work in a community where our largest partner school is in the tenth most deprived ward in the country.

It is easy to talk about the challenges of financial poverty and poverty of aspiration, but this is our reality. Our approach to teaching and learning has been such that we have ensured that these have been no barrier to achievement. My staff appreciate and understand this; when I recruit I ensure that they are rooted in the moral dimension of our work. It means being ambitious and aspirational for our young people.

As principal, it has been a tough journey to build a college, create an ethos and challenge preconceived ideas and low expectations. Of that there is no doubt.

However,  the value the college has added from a modest level of prior attainment is something that has seen young people in Rochdale grasp greater life chances. Our town has been in the news for the wrong reasons in recent months. I hope that that the recognition and endorsement by Ofsted gives the young people and their parents the primary and secondary schools in the borough the confidence and trust as we move to the next stage of our development.

Julian Appleyard, principal Rochdale Sixth Form College