Celebrating 36 yrs of outstanding success!

This week Alton College celebrated 36 years since its official opening on 23 May, 1980 by then Secretary of State, Mark Carlisle. The College was one of the first purpose-built Sixth Forms in the UK and opened for teaching in September 1978 to a cohort of 226 students. Today, approximately 2,000 students from over 97 different state and independent schools travel from across four counties to study at the College.

Today it offers a broad range of A levels (originally the College offered just 19 A levels, now there are 81!) on its 16 acre campus and since 1982 when Sir Keith Joseph the then Secretary of State approved Tertiary status for the College, the College has run a wide range of vocational courses. The College is the number one choice for students in East Hampshire studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (RCU Vector benchmarking 2016).

Providing a range of adult education, community courses and Foundation Degrees in partnership with the University of Portsmouth, the College was also recently awarded Highly Trusted Sponsor Tier 4 status enabling it to welcome international students to study alongside UK students at the College.

The College was the first to be awarded Outstanding status in three consecutive Ofsted inspections and was noted as the second highest achieving Sixth Form College in Hampshire by the Sunday Times in its latest league tables.
Damian Hinds MP for East Hampshire and Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury regularly visits the College. He says: ‘Alton College is a jewel in East Hampshire’s crown, offering students first class tuition in an environment of great achievement and purpose. When I meet students at the College, I am always struck by their confidence and their drive. Alton students are inquisitive and challenging, but engage easily with each other and their teachers. It is a fantastic place for young people to explore, learn, develop and thrive. We are fortunate to have such an outstanding academic institution in our area. The College has developed remarkably over the past 36 years and I look forward to it continuing to go from strength-to-strength in providing excellence in education for young people in the area for years to come ’.

In March he gave a talk (part of the College’s TED-style initiative talks@altoncollege) called ‘The Budget, The Economy and Economics’ which followed the Spring Budget. During the talk hosted by the Students’ Union and held in the Wessex Arts Theatre he gave an account of life as Treasury Secretary and covered hot topics from Corporation Tax, the NHS, and the EU Referendum. He described Alton College students as ‘…the cream of the crop in academia in East Hampshire,’ explaining to them how they ‘are lucky to be growing up in such a good area with lots of opportunities.’  Other notable visitors to talks@altoncollege include newscaster Alastair Stewart OBE (his son Freddie, previously at Bedales, was a former Alton College student) and Yvette Cooper, MP for Pontefract and Castleford previously at Eggar’s School studied at the College in the 1990s.

The College’s third Principal, Sara Russell, took the helm this term after Jane Machell retired at Easter following 12 years in post. Jane herself took over leading the College from its inaugural Principal, Michael Gray who still lives locally. Sara explained: ‘At 36 years young, we remain a thriving, modern Sixth Form College offering students an enviable choice of high achieving A level and vocational courses in a dynamic learning environment. We have extremely experienced, specialist teaching and support staff who provide the perfect bridge between school and Higher Education or employment. Our students are amazing and each year I’m so impressed and proud of their outstanding achievements’.

It also has special partnership with neighbouring Beacon College, Treloar’s. John Stone Principal of Treloar College said: ‘The continuation of this partnership is vital to Treloar's and its students as without it programmes of this nature would not be viable. Taken together the partnership between Alton College and Treloar's provides a unique contribution to the SEND offer both locally and nationally’. 

Growing from a small number of classrooms into an impressive university-style campus, the College has invested over £17million in its estate in the past 10 years, boasting facilities such as an industry-standard media suite, music recording studios, science laboratories, the Wessex Arts Theatre, dance studios and a Starbucks café. The most recent addition and the College’s 10th building was the Sonardyne Centre for Engineering and Design Technology, opened by Sir Robert Winston in 2013. The College ranks as the top provider for Engineering in the M3 Local Economic Partnership area (enterprisem3.org.uk/map/).  The College has a dedicated STEM Ambassador, Dawn Elson, Group Engineering Director at Merlin Entertainments and Dr Penny Marriott, a leading research scientist leads the College’s specialist Rocket Scientist Programme.

Kate Willett, previously at The Petersfield School is currently studying Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Maths, and the Extended Project Qualification. She aims to apply to study Biomedical Sciences at University, she said: ‘I chose to study at Alton because of the outstanding teachers and facilities. In my first year here I won a Gold medal in the British Biology Olympiad, thanks to the support from staff. I have also attained work experience placements at Diamond Light Source and the University of Portsmouth labs, and was lucky enough to attend a STEM leadership programme at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama’.

The College is also renowned for its specialist music courses and boasts an array of successful past students such as Laura Jurd, previously at Amery Hill School. In addition to being an internationally recognised trumpeter and composer, winning prestigious awards and regularly appearing on radio and TV and at jazz festivals nationwide, she has returned to teach and become the College’s dedicated Music Ambassador, she said:  ‘Alton College was the first place that I felt connected with like-minded people. Thanks to the amazing support, I went on to study at Trinity Laban Conservatoire for Music and Dance’. This year six students were offered places to study at the country's best music conservatoires.

Trombonist Joel Knee, previously at The Petersfield School, has excelled himself by being offered places at four of the major conservatoires. The Guildhall School of Music and Drama have offered him a scholarship to study jazz, and he has also received offers from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, the Royal Academy of Music and the Birmingham Conservatoire to major in jazz. Ellen Drewe, previously at Amery Hill School, is currently studying A level Music and the BTEC level 3 Subsidiary Diploma in Music (Jazz). She has lessons on tenor saxophone and voice but her particular strength lies in composition. Ellen has been offered places at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and Guildhall School of Music and Drama to study Composition. Trinity only offer seven people a place to study composition each year, and Ellen was offered a place on the spot. She said 'I wasn't too nervous in my interview as my teachers, Pande Shahov and Phil Singleton had spent so much time working with us on our applications, working on our interview/audition technique and grounding us all so we knew what to expect. As a result we have all succeeded in being given fantastic offers.'

The vibrant and inspirational Creative and Performing Arts departments ensure students thrive. Annual events include Fashion Shows, brilliant trips and art and photography exhibitions with an exclusive Private View night, 'Live Projects' culminating in Dragons Den style competition, amazing Dance and Drama shows and plays. This year art students have been involved in a project with refugees at Tate Modern. Each year many students go on to the top universities for the arts including Westminster University (in 2015 Billy Mitchell, previously at Mill Chase went on to study Fashion there), Bournemouth University and the Royal College of Dance.

Geography student, Amie Jones, previously at Weydon School, enjoyed the unique experience of being one of four UK students at the Geography Olympiad in the Tver Region of Russia over the summer.

Amie said she would ‘definitely recommend applying for the competition’. She explained: ‘It is not only a fantastic experience, but also something extra to put on a personal statement when applying to university. I think it shows initiative and drive to undertake extra-curricular activities.’ She has been giving talks to first year Geography students about the Olympiad and her plans to study Geography at either the University of Leeds or the University of Exeter next year.

Other famous College alumni include; musician Alison Goldfrapp, singer-songwriter Gwyneth Herbert and Lisbee Stainton, Britain’s Got Talent singer, Michael Auger, comedian Russell Howard, cricketer Chris Wood and actress Catherine McCormack.

Ali Bayliss, previously at Perins School is currently studying Economics, History, Maths, Further Maths, Spanish and the Extended Project Qualification. He leaves the College this year to study Economics at the University of Cambridge. He said: ‘Alton College is a fantastic place to study. The teachers are really passionate and this gives you the confidence to succeed. The incredible support and the Applying to Competitive Courses programme were instrumental in helping me secure my place at Cambridge. I was also fortunate enough to be awarded the Rotary Scholarship for Mathematics’.

Of the 92% of students who leave the College each year to go to Further and Higher Education or Employment, 19% go on to Russell Group Universities including the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. 80% of A level students achieve a 2:1 Hons degree and above while 21% achieve a First Class Hons Degree, 16% is the national average for Sixth Form Colleges and Schools with a Sixth Form.

Many students also benefit from local independent charity, the Alton College Foundation which was set up in 1999. In the past 17 years it has raised over £400,000 to award 252 students a variety of scholarships. It has also provided bursaries and grants of over £60,000 since 2010. Gabby Kelly previously at The Petersfield School, was awarded The Richard Frankel Memorial Scholarship For Medicine this year. She said: ‘I have used my scholarship to fund experiences to support my UCAS application to medical school, such as attending various medical lectures and conferences and paying transport costs to hospitals and dental surgeries to gain valuable shadowing experience’.

Engineer, Ian Gibson, has been a governor at the College for the past 15 years and chair since 2012. In this time he has overseen the expansion and development of the College campus, its curriculum offer for school leavers and adults, and its work with the community. He said: ‘We are justifiably proud of the achievements of the students that come to Alton College and the high quality of our teaching, learning and support that enables them to reach their full potential’. He explained Independent Economic Analysists EMSI reported that the College directly benefits the local community as every £1 invested in the College manifests itself into a benefit to taxpayers of £3.40. He said: ‘The economic impact of Alton College is significant and calculated as £147.9m per annum including directly employing 152 staff, representing 0.5% of the overall Hampshire economy’. He added: ‘Students studying Level 3 courses at the College will earn £8,075 more per year in higher earnings than those with no formal qualifications’.

The College’s next Open Day is Monday 4 July, 3.30-8pm.

Find out more at altoncollege.ac.uk, facebook.com/altoncollege and @altoncollege on twitter.

Eva Napier, pictured, previously at Perins School, studying BTEC Extended Diploma in Art & Design