Located in central London, this Sixth Form college is popular with high achieving international students, and combines personalised learning programmes for GCSE and A Levels with bespoke careers advice and university guidance. The school is relaxed in its approach, but not in its expectations of success...
While this co-ed day college enrols learners aged 13-21 years, the majority of students are aged 16-19 years and studying A Levels. Around 150 students take A Levels every year, compared to an average of 15 GCSE students.
Founded in 1981 by its current principal Michael Kirby, this standalone Sixth Form college describes its three key strengths as “exam success, individual attention and superb location”. Kirby works closely alongside his son Lee Kirby, the director of studies and head of Sixth Form, to deliver this. So, how does it measure up?
One of the top-ranking schools in London, Ashbourne’s A Level results are consistently high; over the past five years, around 50% of grades were 9-7 at GCSE and A*-A at A Level. This is to be expected though from such an academically demanding college where students need at least a C grade at AS Level before they can proceed to the second year of A Level.
Small class sizes of 10 students or less ensure that students get greater individual attention. The school has a dedicated personal tutor, described by the college as the “lynch pin of our system of individual attention”, who students meet with for weekly one-to-one sessions in their second year of A Levels. Students also receive plenty of support beyond the classroom in terms of supervised study, career counselling, study skills workshops, CV writing workshops, exam writing techniques, and UCAS preparation.
In terms of location, Ashbourne is at the heart of the UK’s capital city, and close to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. The college is housed within three buildings within easy walking distance of each other – and the college’s art students take full advantage of being just a tube ride away from the West End, art galleries and museums.
During its most recent Ofsted inspection in 2018, Ashbourne was rated Good overall, and Outstanding for its Sixth Form provision. Inspectors described the college as having a “nurturing yet challenging learning environment” where teachers know each student’s particular strengths.
Ashbourne’s approach to teaching differs to more traditional sixth form colleges within the UK’s state and private sector. The college takes a more relaxed university-style approach to learning, and there’s more freedom than you’ll find at a typical school. There’s no uniform, students are encouraged to use first names with their teachers, and there’s less parental contact (although parents can still keep track of their child’s progress via a portal on the college website).
There’s nothing relaxed about Ashbourne’s expectations of its students though. To keep students on track towards achieving the highest grades possible, there are mock exams every half term and timetabled meetings with subject teachers outside class. There’s also an emphasis on teaching exam technique, which the college says is “critical to achieving the best A Level results”. Ofsted inspectors praised the college for its “teachers’ strong subject knowledge and high-quality teaching” and the “individualised programme of academic and pastoral support” for all students.
Sixth Form students have more flexibility and choice than some other schools can offer. They can choose from more than 25 A Level subjects in any combination and course length (ranging from revision courses and retakes to one-year, 18-month, and two-year programmes). Catering to the college’s international students, there is a wide choice of Modern European language options such as French, Spanish, and Italian as well as Russian, Chinese and Arabic for native speakers. The most popular subject is maths (taken by over half of the A Level cohort), but the college also has a strong track record in the humanities and the arts.
There are specialised university application programmes for Oxbridge, and for competitive courses such as medicine and engineering.
The college offers a self-contained one-year GCSE course, where students take five core subjects and choose from a range of options including French, Spanish, drama, computing, history, music, economics, and art & design. It also continues to run its Online Distance Learning Programme, which was launched during the UK lockdown in 2020 and offers a full timetable of GCSE and A Level courses.
Students are encouraged to explore the arts in their first year of A Levels during a mini-foundation programme that covers drawing, life drawing, printmaking, sculpture, digital art, photography, fabrics, and textiles. It offers the college’s most creative students the opportunity to make a well-informed decision on whether to study fine art, textiles, graphic communication, photography and/or art, craft & design at A Level.
Beyond the classroom, you’ll often hear Ashbourne students talk about the annual Revue, where they can showcase their art, music and drama talents, and the annual European cultural trip.
While there’s no timetabled sport or PE lessons, students are given the freedom to set up sports clubs; this is certainly not the sportiest of schools but the eight-a-side football club, the Ashbourne Allstars, is popular. There are also extra-curricular clubs ranging from chess and drama to LGBTQ+ and Meditation and Mindfulness, although in 2018 Ofsted inspectors reported on the low uptake of extra-curricular activities. The most popular clubs tend to be those that explore topics beyond A Level studies such as critical theory, astro-particle physics and computing.
Ashbourne’s A Level results are consistently high. In 2020, 50% of grades were 9-7 at GCSE; at A Level, 51% were A*-A and 79% were A*-B). In 2019, 47% of grades were A*-A and 90% were A*-C.
More than 50% of Ashbourne students go on to study at Russell Group universities. There is a clear predilection for London, with the highest number going to University College London or King's College.
In addition to the main building there is a Year 11 block and art department, as well as a building dedicated to the performing arts. Facilities across the college include science laboratories, music practice rooms, multimedia recording and editing facilities, and art facilities used for silk-screen printing, ceramics and dark room photography. It’s an academic college with a city centre location, so you won’t find large sports fields or courts here.
Ashbourne does not have boarding facilities but, with such a high number of international students, it can assist students in finding accommodation and guardianship.
Ashbourne is a selective college; students need to take maths and English assessments as well as subject-specific entrance exams in drama, music, English Literature, or art if studying these subjects. Students may also be asked to attend an academic and/or general interview, and to submit a 500-word statement to express their ambitions, interests, and hobbies.
An education at Ashbourne is not cheap – such small class sizes and London location comes at a prices. Annual fees are £30,000 for international students and £28,500 for UK students.
Scholarships cover up to 100% tuition fees to gifted and talented students in music, drama, and English literature.
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