School Profile: Rochester Independent College

Rochester Independent College is a UK school with a fresh approach to traditional private education. There’s no uniform and students are on first name terms with teaching staff.It offers flexible pathways for those who need to move schools at different points, including retaking GCSEs or A levels, switching for the final year of sixth form, or changing from IB to A levels.

12 Aug 2019 — By The HK HUB / Education
student at Rochester Independent college

Why move to an independent sixth form college?

There is no doubt that students are attracted to independent colleges by the more grown up environment and as a stepping stone between school and university. Parents are becoming increasingly focused on outcomes in terms of exam results and university placement with more and more choosing independent colleges focused on these, even if their own education was at a more traditional boarding school.

“We emphasise not just getting students to pass their A Levels with excellent grades but on placing them into the best course at the best university possible for their aspirations” says Principal Alistair Brownlow. “We enable our students, many of whom come to us from the best traditional boarding schools or international schools, to build on what they have learnt previously and focus on exam technique in a relaxed environment, encouraging them to believe in themselves more and grow in confidence.”

This approach is demonstrably successful: RIC students are this year holding offers from all of the G5 universities including Chemistry at Oxford, History and Politics at Cambridge, International Relations at LSE, Economics at UCL and Physics at Imperial. RIC specialises in intensive one year GCSE and intensive one-year A level courses.

Students in hallway at RIC

Why Rochester?

Classes are small in Rochester’s sixth form, usually numbering around 6 to 8, meaning students have individual attention. It can be both reassuring and stimulating to join classes with those in the same position who have also moved schools. All boarding is on campus in single rooms. There’s a choice of 40 A level subjects and students can choose freely between both academic and creative courses. Said Alistair Brownlow: “Here at Rochester our students’ A Level choices often demonstrate the interdependency of the sciences and the arts. Students combine Music Technology and Film with Maths to prepare for sound engineering degrees; potential architects add Fine Art and History of Art to their Maths and Physics whilst aspiring engineers are often found in the art department working on Graphic Design or Photography A Levels.”

Students lounging

What’s it like to live and learn at a sixth form boarding College like Rochester?

At Rochester, students are treated as young adults and encouraged to search for their own answers, voice their own opinions and think creatively and independently. Danny Chueng, a former RIC student from Hong Kong who returned to the College to teach Maths after graduating says: “The atmosphere at Rochester Independent College is vibrant and the tutors helped me learn how to study more independently and efficiently.”

Natasha Alford, now at Bristol University studying Medicine says: “I felt as though my dream could be possible because I was surrounded by people whose advice I trusted. It felt great to be in such a safe place where asking questions or saying you don’t understand didn’t seem like a weakness. I’m happy I had to retake my A levels because attending Rochester taught me the ability to learn and more importantly understand what I’m learning. But also to face failure and learn it’s not the end of the world and you can always try again. Although I attended Rochester to gain good A levels what I actually gained during my time there was so much more.”

Why retake or switch schools for Year 13?

A change of scene and a fresh approach can often be transformative, particularly after a set of disappointing results. The Good Schools Guide, reviewing Rochester Independent College says: “Many students transfer here after poor progress at A level and the effect can be dramatic. Parents all speak highly of the pastoral care and the growth in confidence witnessed. It’s a sound investment- among the retakers all got into university and three-quarters won Russell Group places.”

Quite a few students, both from the UK and internationally, realise that they have chosen the wrong school, that the environment doesn’t suit them or that they haven’t done as well as they wanted to. Others have lost confidence, want to change the subjects they are studying and welcome a fresh start in a new environment. Some may have under-performed in their first year and have been asked to leave their current sixth form, or cannot continue with the subjects of their choice. However, far from being a time to panic, help is at hand and transition is easier than you would think.

The advantage of transferring directly into Year 13, is that it enables students to catch up by revising the first year of A Levels comprehensively, alongside the second year material, and still complete their Sixth Form within the standard two-year period and go to a good university.

So if your A Levels don’t go completely to plan there are options at hand to help students mature, get back on track and still have the world as their oyster. However, do be warned. There are no short cuts and doing your A Levels in a year means hard work. Year 13 or A level retakes at Rochester Independent College is intensive with no bank holidays, no study leave and often teaching over Easter and half term breaks.

student in art studio

Why change from the IB to A level?

With university entry increasingly competitive it is now common for sixth form students to evaluate the benefits of alternative programmes of study. While both routes provide strong foundations for university entry, it’s clear that different pathways suit different students.

At RIC students value and benefit from being able to focus on their strengths and specialise at A level, rather than being compelled to study subjects they’d rather stop after GCSE as the much broader IB Diploma demands. For many sixteen year olds, studying three subjects in depth rather than six on the IB is the best way of realising their university aspirations. It is even possible to switch to a one year A Level course after spending the first year of your Sixth Form following the IBD.

One student waiting for his A level results this year is Jeff Hu who joined RIC from an International school in Kowloon after his GCSEs to move to the A level curriculum. He says: “The best thing about boarding was freedom and responsibility, a good preparation for university. I had thought that RIC would be more ‘secluded’ like other private schools, but in fact where it is there are more things to do and places to go. I was surprised by how many UK students there are in the school. even though my previous school in Hong Kong was an international one based on the English system, RIC is much more English.” Jeff studied Economics, Maths and Physics A level at Rochester and his first-choice university is UCL.

Front of school RIC

What do you need to know about moving to RIC?

Rochester is a historic town on the banks of the river Medway which inspired some of Charles Dickens’ greatest works. Regular trains run from Rochester to London in just under 40 minutes and Ebbsfleet for Paris and Brussels on the Eurostar is just 10 minutes away. Rochester offers a range of quirky vintage shops and independent boutiques as well as museums, delicatessens, second hand bookstores and some great restaurants, micro pubs and coffee houses. There are regular events on the traditional cobbled High Street including the Dickensian Christmas Festival.

Rochester Independent College focuses on student’s individual requirements when assessing their suitability for courses. Each student is invited for an informal interview where academic staff can give guidance on the next steps. This can be conducted via Skype for international students.

To find out more about retaking A levels or GCSEs, or switching to Year 12 or Year 13 at Rochester Independent College, visit their website here:

Rochester Independent College is part of Dukes Education which operates a number of leading independent sixth form colleges in the UK including Cardiff Sixth Form College and Fine Arts College, London as well as the market leading consultancy services Oxbridge Applications and Dukes US Applications.


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