A high achieving state sixth form college in Cambridge with a large community of 2,700 students. The college offers a wide range of A Level courses, and this year received 74 Oxbridge offers.
Hills Road Sixth Form College is a non-selective state-run sixth form college in Cambridge – so an education here comes without the expense of tuition fees and is not dependent on passing demanding admissions tests. It has an excellent reputation for offering A Level courses to around 2,700 full time students; it also offers a variety of courses to around 4,000 part-time students in its adult education programme.
The college has attracted the attention of global media in recent years for sending more students to Oxbridge than the prestigious fee-paying school, Eton College; the number was a very high 74 this year (38 for Oxford and 31 for Cambridge), a rise on the 69 offers received in 2021 and marginally lower than then 75 in 2020. In the past six years, the number of Oxbridge offers has not fallen below 67, which is extraordinary.
But it’s not just about academics here – and the college is not to be seen as an exam factory. Although the college has been positioned at the top for Sixth Form College performance league tables for outcomes for over 20 years, it has not become complacent.
Hills Road has proven to be a forward-thinking college that offers an extensive range of enrichment and extra-curricular activities, and the college is focused on students achieving well in skills as varied as sports, drama, music, robotics, forensics and ceramics, as well as in the classroom. It’s all excellent preparation for university, not just because it gives students the edge over other applicants but because it equips them with so many valuable life and study skills for the years ahead.
Located just outside the centre of the university city of Cambridge, Hills Road is on the site of the former Cambridge and County School for Boys. Since opening in 1974, the college has focused on offering A Levels to students in the Cambridge area; it has been shortlisted since 2017 as a finalist in the TES Sixth Form College of the Year Award including for 2021.
Principal Jo Trump was appointed in 2016, having been deputy principal at the college for several years before. Her career has always focused on the state sixth form education. Prior to this, Ms Trump was Consortium Manager for the S7 Consortium of Surrey Sixth Form Colleges and Assistant Principal at Farnham Sixth Form College.
The college achieved an Ofsted rating of Outstanding in its first inspection in 2001.
One of Hills Road’s strengths is its choice of A Level options; there are 35 subjects to choose from. It’s also exciting to see the new A Level Environmental Science being added as an option from September 2023; this course gets students looking at the impact of human activity on the environment and exploring ways in which we can create a sustainable future.
An education here is rigorous and challenging, but students are offered plenty of support. Each student has a specialist tutor, subject departments offer lunchtime workshops offering one-to-one support, and there’s a strong Careers Department advising on university applications.
Most students take three A Levels and everyone must complete the Extended Project Qualification; this standalone qualification is excellent for developing the independent learning and research skills demanded by universities and employers.
Hills Road sees enrichment as a hugely important part of sixth form education. All students also have the choice of taking another enrichment activity throughout Year 12, which helps further to give them the competitive edge when applying to university. The college can be applauded for identifying the limitations of A Levels and offering an education that goes beyond the traditional classroom; enrichment activities cover languages, creativity, sport, music, competition and community to ensure that a variety of interests are covered.
Academic facilities include IT facilities, a Library and Resources Centre, specialist laboratories for science and language learning, and a new three-storey building for the mathematics, performing arts and sport. Arts facilities include The Robinson Theatre, recital room and practice rooms, and an art and design centre.
Students are given many opportunities to broaden their horizons here – and to avoid leaving the college with only a bunch of (albeit very high) A Level grades. One of the advantages of being such a large college is that it can offer a wide choice of extra-curricular activities, from folk music to Japanese comics and ultimate Frisbee to absurd comedy. The Duke of Edinburgh Award is also very popular.
Sport is not reserved for those students taking PE as an A Level. The college has 37 sports teams covering 21 different sports, as varied as badminton, basketball, cheer, cricket, football, hockey, netball, rowing, rugby and tennis. Students are fortunate to have excellent sporting facilities on campus including a sports hall, indoor cricket hall with nets, fitness gym, dance studio, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, and playing fields.
Similarly, there is a choice of music, art and drama clubs, ensembles and orchestras, regardless of whether students are studying music, art or drama A Level. There are also annual productions, dance shows and technical theatre workshops, all giving students that opportunity to learn and develop new skills alongside their academic studies.
Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2019 data is the latest available exam results data released by state schools.
The last published A Level results (for 2019) show that 44% of grades were A*-A and more than 73% of grades awarded were A*-B.
Students achieved a 100% pass rate in the majority of subjects, with an average pass rate in the remaining courses of 99%, making the overall college pass rate a striking 99.5%.
Two-thirds of leavers go to the most sought-after Russell Group universities and, as mentioned above 74 students were offered a place at Oxbridge this year.
Principal Jo Trump said:
"This year group had an abrupt end to their secondary schooling in March of 2020; they sat no high-stakes, formal qualifications before this year; they have coped with online learning; with lockdowns; with mask wearing and have had to miss so many of the joyful bits of sixth form education.
"They are absolutely deserving of these exceptional A Level results and of all the opportunity doorways they have opened for themselves. These amazing young people have exceeded all expectations – there is nothing they can’t cope with - and we can’t wait to see them go on to shape their futures and ours.”
It’s a state school, so there are no tuition fees to pay.
The majority of students come here from state schools in the Cambridge Area Partnership (CAP) area, but the college also offers limited places to students who apply from outside the CAP area.
To be considered for a place in the Sixth Form students must meet the minimum grade requirements for at least three A Level subjects for which they are applying. All applications to the College are made through MyChoice16.
Good for: This is an excellent state-funded sixth form where students are actively encouraged to enjoy, and benefit from, all aspects of college life. As a large college, which may feel overwhelming for some, students are fortunate to have a huge choice of A Level subjects and extra-curricular activities. The opportunity to broaden your horizons and explore new and existing passions is huge, and students leave with far more than three (quite often very high) A Level grades.
Not for: Families looking for a close-knit community of students will prefer a smaller college, and it may feel too urban for some. As a state school, priority for places is given to students living in the local area, so it can really depend on where you live.
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