“We are back in business and moving forward”. That’s the message from Ely College principal Richard Spencer.
Since taking up his post in the summer, Mr Spencer has been on a massive mission to win back the hearts and minds of the local community, making a raft of radical changes, recruiting staff and hoping to boost the morale of students, teachers and parents alike.
Last week the college launched its new Bishop Laney Sixth-Form College, a joint collaboration with Soham Village College, which will officially open in September 2017.
It will initially focus on professional and vocational qualifications in subjects such as business studies, media, sport, performing arts, catering, construction and hairdressing, with an emphasis on work experience and training.
The college hopes to offer A-Levels on its Downham Road site in 2018.
As neither Ely College nor Witchford or Soham Village Colleges currently offer A-Levels, sixth formers are having to travel into Cambridge and elsewhere to gain qualifications.
Mr Spencer said: “The average journey time for a child in East Cambridgeshire for a child over 16 is one and a half hours per day. For many it’s more than that.”
Bishop Laney Sixth-Form College is a relaunch of sixth-form provision in collaboration with Soham Village College, businesses, Cambridgeshire County Council and East Cambridgeshire District Council.
“We’ve got a hairdressing salon and professional kitchens and are currently advertising for new hairdressers and teachers. These are new and exciting times.”
Mr Spencer, who worked for Ofsted before becoming principal, is determined to lift Ely College out of special measures and raise academic and behavioural standards throughout the school.
He said: “We’ve raised the bar in terms of expectations. It’s about doing things 10 per cent more effectively.”
The college has introduced an optional sixth period after school, known as Session 6, where pupils can earn points for taking on extra activities. These can be charitable work, such as the Duke of Edinburgh Awards or taking part in the student council.
Students who can’t otherwise get home afterwards are provided with free mini bus transportation.
A group of year eight students will be visiting Cambridge University this year as part of a drive to encourage pupils to apply for higher and further education.
The college has restructured the school into four houses named after inspirational local figureheads – Scott, Franklin, Etheldreda and Turing – to encourage a family feel and provide healthy competition among the houses. Students have been provided with free house ties to give them a sense of identity and pride.
The school has also been on a major recruitment drive – especially in its mathematics department.
Mr Spencer said: “Maths was an area of real challenge. We’ve been working very hard to recruit.
“Back in April we had huge vacancies. We started the academic year in September with a fully staffed maths department.”
With Littleport College due to open in September 2017, this may impact on the number of students applying to Ely College.
However, Mr Spencer is hoping to convince parents and pupils alike that Ely College is a good choice.
The secondary school has been hosting open evenings, college tours and primary school roadshows to highlight improvements that have already been made and to talk about changes planned for the future.
“We are back in business and moving forward. We are trying to get as many parents through the doors as we can to show them what we are doing.”
The college, which is now run by Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust (CMAT), is looking at how it communicates with the community. It has revamped its newsletters and is looking at setting up a Facebook page.
There are currently about 1100 students at the college, which can cater for up to 1500.
Mr Spencer said: “It’s about the community having confidence in the college again.”