Rochdale Sixth Form College topped this year’s performance table, published last month, for value added A-Level performance for a third year in a row. Julian Appleyard explains the secret of their success.

If someone asked me in 2010 to predict the success of Rochdale Sixth Form College and where it would be in 2016, then I would say that the achievements to date have surpassed all expectations.

Over the last six years, the tremendously dedicated and committed students and staff have been on a journey resulting in national recognition and history being made.

For the third successive year, the college has topped the Department for Education performance tables for A-Level value added.

The position
in the tables shows that students at the college make more progress given their start point

The position in the tables shows that students at the college make more progress given their start point.

Prior to 2010, Rochdale as a local authority was ranked in the bottom 10 per cent for value added performance for A-Levels and in the bottom five local authorities for student progression to higher education.

Since then, the transformational reversal in fortunes has not only changed perception of prospective students and parents, but the college is an educational beacon for the town itself.

When I look back clearly, the pivotal moment was the outstanding report by Ofsted in 2013, but putting such accolades aside, it is the moral dimension to our work that drives us.

Fundamental to the college’s success is the moral purpose in which all our daily work is rooted.

There is no doubt that energetic and inspirational teaching is great to see, but it is the attitudes and beliefs of staff that have helped drive performance.

It is their desire, day in and day out to inspire, motivate and believe in our young people, so that they have the self-confidence and self-worth to face A-Level study.

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 clichéd when put like that, but we simply have processes that ensure no student gets left behind.

The one-to-one approach is a central feature. The context 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 10th 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 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.

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.

Our commitment to valuing the individuality of each of our students and providing personalised pastoral support through a bespoke pastoral structure is a crucial feature of what we do.

Staff appreciate that preparing students for the next step means getting to know them really well and ensuring that they have the skill set necessary to make the transition to the post-18 world.

The life-changing outcomes at the college and the leadership and its systems are now going beyond the college gates.

The college as a designated National Support School has supported other institutions across the country with tangibly improved outcomes and the college looks to continue this work.

The college, while proud of its success so far, is far from complacent and is even more determined to sustain its success.

By building on our powerful ethos and culture, we aim to ensure the future generation of Rochdale students receive a first class deal – they deserve nothing less.


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  1. Great article. I am a Campus Success Coach and the 1-on-1 approach is definitely a large part of my coaching construct. The ability to connect with my students on a non-academic level gives me the influence to impact them academically.