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Peter Symonds College

2020 Full Inspection Report
What does the provider do well and what does it need to do better?

Leaders and managers have designed and developed a challenging curriculum that enables students to achieve and often exceed expectations. They evaluate the curriculum regularly to ensure that it increases students’ chances of progressing to the best universities or gaining employment. For example, they introduced new vocational courses in law, medical science and criminology to the curriculum to enable students to enter careers in allied professions.

Teachers have responded well to the changes to the A-level curriculum. They have reordered the way that subjects are taught so that students do not forget what they learned in the earlier parts of the syllabus. Teachers make considered choices about what course specifications they follow to maximise the skills that students develop. In mathematics, for example, the specification includes greater emphasis on problem-solving, as this is what universities and employers want students to have.

Teachers are adept at building students’ knowledge of a subject through the delivery of well-planned sequential steps. In sociology, for example, students start their first year by studying the family, as this is something that they are familiar with. Teachers then introduce theoretical ideas to explain the concept of the family. By the second year, students can compare and contrast a wide range of theories and apply them to different sociological topics.

Teachers frequently revisit previous learning and core principles to reinforce students’ knowledge and link it to a new subject. For example, teachers in biology check that second-year students can recall the principles of meiosis before showing them how it relates to the concept of cell generation for growth and development.

Teachers assess students’ work constructively to identify the gaps in their knowledge and the areas that they need to improve. For example, in psychology teachers assess students’ use of description, application and evaluation in their written assignments to provide constructive feedback on how they should improve their approach to essay writing.

Teachers provide high levels of support for students outside of lessons. Students value the accessibility of drop-in workshops and the one-to-one support they receive. These high levels of individual support contribute to the very low number of students leaving their courses early and the high proportion who achieve better than-expected grades in their subjects.

Managers and teachers provide students with a wide range of enrichment activities that broaden the knowledge and skills they acquire in the classroom. Mathematics students, for example, compete with other groups of students in cyber challenges and a maths Olympiad organised through a local university.

Highly qualified and experienced careers staff guide students through the process of applying to higher education by helping them to research the best universities and supporting them with interview techniques. As a result, the number of students going to Russell Group universities is very high.

Staff support students to find valuable work experience related to their studies. However, managers have only just recently started to evaluate the impact of these experiences on the overall development of students’ skills and knowledge. It is still too early to see the impact of this change on the development of the curriculum. Since starting the apprenticeship provision in 2017, leaders and managers have ensured that apprentices receive good-quality off-the-job training that supports them well in their job roles.

Leaders and managers place a very strong emphasis on maintaining the well-being of their staff. They enable staff to take part in activities that provide a balance to their working lives, such as yoga and pilates and access to a dedicated teachers’ hub. Staff at all levels of the college benefit from high-quality professional development. As a result, staff feel very well supported and repay managers by promoting the college’s ambitious culture for all its students.

Governors use their extensive knowledge of the local area and their professional expertise to ensure that the college improves and responds to local employment opportunities. They have worked with senior leaders to maintain an inclusive curriculum and supportive ethos, while still maintaining expectations about high standards.

Senior leaders are very honest with governors about their successes and their areas for development. They respond to governors’ challenges to put things right. For example, since the recruitment of a new principal, the senior management team have instigated a revised staff survey, ‘love and ideas’. Positive staff feedback has enabled senior leaders to identify good practice and inform further areas for improvement.

2008 Full Inspection Report
Areas for improvement

The college should address:

  • the consistency of target setting in progress review action plans to help students improve.

2004 Full Inspection Report
What should be improved
  • the cramped accommodation in a minority of lessons.

Report Recommendations