This is a collaborative post.
Choosing to Study GCSE’s at a college rather than in a traditional school setting, may seem like an unorthodox and potentially risky path to take. Staying where you are and completing your GCSE’s just seems like the most sensible and safe route for many.
However, as we learn more and more about the multiplicity of learning styles, the one size fits all approach of traditional schools is becoming increasingly tired in the eyes of many students and their families.
This is where independent colleges can play a crucial role. Many students across the country will choose to attend institutions like these to study A-Levels. However, many of these colleges also offer intensive and comprehensive GCSE courses which more and more students are taking advantage of. Yet these courses at independent colleges are still somewhat of a hidden gem for students who do not fit the mould of the traditional school setting.
But what are the pragmatic benefits of studying GCSE’s at an independent college? We discussed with a leading independent college in London, Ashbourne College, about some of the factors that can make for a highly enjoyable, and most importantly impactful, educational experience.
1. Fresh environment
Many students remain at their secondary school all the way from Year 7 (11 years old) to Year 11 (16 years old) or even Year 13 (18 years old!). Five years is an extremely long time to be in the same place every day, often being taught by the same teachers. Students are an entirely different person at 15 then they were when they first joined. I am sure many parents have had the experience of their child missing a deadline or performing poorly early on in their secondary school tenure, for which they are then profiled and pigeonholed for the rest of their studies.
This situation does not help students develop. Moving to a college for GCSE’s allows students to make a fresh start, leaving behind any silly mistakes they made whilst adjusting to secondary school life, with teachers who truly want them to succeed in the most important stage of their education.
2. Small class sizes
We have all had experiences of secondary school classes that are at absolute maximum capacity with 30 students crammed into one room. It can be hard to see the board/screen, difficult to get the teacher’s attention and is simply an ineffective learning environment overall.
At a private college, class sizes are kept small, often not more than 10 students. This means that all students are fully engaged in the lesson and no one is left behind. The individual attention that teachers are subsequently able to provide to students is also essential to enabling students to gain the very top grades in their examinations. If your student is not one to pick concepts up instantly without support (as most are not) this kind of setting is absolutely key.
3. Focussed teaching
The fact that colleges are entirely focussed on success in GCSE and A-Level examinations means that teachers’ time and knowledge is dedicated entirely on the specifications for these exams. Their knowledge of the courses will be more in depth than teachers who are stretched to teach Year 7, Year 8 and Year 9 as well as GCSE’s.
In colleges, students are taught to the exam from day one, which is the most effective method for students who are coasting at a ‘B’ grade, who want to access the very top A and A* grades. Overall, this means better lessons, more focussed advice and greater success in exams.
4. Mature cohort
When studying GCSE’s at college, students go from being one of the oldest students in the setting to being one of the youngest. Whilst this can be daunting at first, having older students around them means they have many to look up to. There will always be a student in Year 13 who is interested in the same subjects as them who can provide advice on tricky things like university applications and revision techniques.
Colleges also often have an extensive mentoring programme, in which Year 13 students are paired with younger students for homework support. An older cohort also means better student behaviour and less disturbances. Students can remain focussed and get things done. Overall, a cohort of students ranging from 15 to 18/19 simply creates an environment that is more conducive to learning and achievement, particularly for students who struggle with distractions in a larger school environment.
5. Guaranteed entry into sixth form
Colleges such as Ashbourne, who offer GCSE and A-Level courses will often offer guaranteed entry from GCSE’s into A-Levels. Many larger private secondary schools have very strict entry requirements for students looking to stay on for A-Levels. It could be argued that this is because the larger schools do not have faith in their ability to improve their students’ grades if they do not perform really well at GCSE.
Ashbourne’s statistics for grade improvement are some of the best in the country and, as a result, they are able to commit to students and guarantee them a place in their sixth form for A-Levels. On average, students studying there will improve their grades by 1.5 levels, meaning if a student does not achieve their desired grades right away, they will very likely improve by the time they leave. The attitude is, therefore, the earlier they join, the more they will improve.