Principal John Rubinstein's spoke to over 2,500 parents and potential students at our open day today, and here is a transcript of his speech...
"I believe that
this is the best place in London to come to study A levels. Our aim is to
stretch and inspire our young people, both academically and personally. We are
about academic excellence and personal development.
People ask if are
a specialist school, and we are.
Our specialism is A levels. That’s all we do.
No little ones doing Key stage 3. Our teachers don’t rush from a difficult year 9 class for a bit of a breather with the year 13s. And we are not an FE college
– no adults, no part-time students or vocational courses.
Just A levels... just
enthusiastic students keen to do well and to progress to university.
something special about a good sixth form college, an academic sixth form
college. That’s probably why some schools market their sixth forms as sixth
form colleges; and some FE colleges market their A level centres as sixth form
colleges. But they are not. So welcome
to the real thing.
The fact that we
specialise in A levels means that we have a big range of subjects – and perhaps
the key thing is that they can be studied in almost any combination.
When I was at school I was desperate to take maths and history at A level, my
two favourite subjects. And I couldn’t. Because they were in the same block: I
could only take maths or history. Last year, with around 600 new AS students, not one student had a clash,
not one couldn’t do the combination they wanted.
And the fact that
we specialise in A levels means we have excellent study facilities – take a
look today at our breath-taking library and two learning zones, and at our labs
and other accommodation and our new 3G pitch. And it also means that our staff
are specialists too, experts in their subjects and in A level pedagogy and
assessment. And you might be surprised at our class sizes too, the average
across the college is currently exactly 20 with no class over 24.
And it means that
we specialise in advice and guidance in the university application process,
that all our staff are involved, and that there is plenty of support and
expertise – because 95% of our students go on to university, see us as a bridge
to university - so we see it as part of the core of who we are.
People often want
to know about myself. I have been principal since January 2013, vice principal
here for 4 years before that. I have been a maths teacher for 30 years now, and
I still teach. I teach because … because I think it is important for a head to
retain some classroom contact, but mainly because I love it and would never
want to give it up!
I have been until last year a part-time Ofsted
inspector – I have been inspecting sixth-forms since 2001, two or three a year.
Perhaps because of my Ofsted experience, I take a very self critical approach
to school leadership, never complacent, always looking for ways to improve. As
part of that, we listen very carefully to views of students and parents – we
welcome complaints as it gives us an opportunity to engage with parents and
improve what we do.
And I am a
Woodhouse parent. Both my daughters went to local schools and then came here
for sixth form. As a result, I understand the experience from the point of view
of parents and new students; the worries of students, for example, about making
new friends, and of parents that they might be making too many friends and how
best to support them during this important time of their life.
I would like to
tell you a little about the college community, what it’s like here. Our
students come from across north London, from over 180 different schools, one
from this school, a couple from here, half a dozen from there. They are diverse
in all sorts of ways, a real cross-section of the London population, but they
are all ambitious and they are high achievers. They are here because they want
to be here, because they want and expect to do well. They mix well, and form a
supportive, friendly community in which all have a place.When you join the Woodhouse community, it is
not like joining another school’s sixth form where you are the outsider – here,
everyone is new together, and we are very proud that Woodhouse students make
friends for life.
Our students are
proud to be part of the college, and when they leave they are upset and tell us
how much the college has meant to them. And they continue to be part of our
community even after they have left, on Twitter, Facebook and our alumni
organisation, many coming back to give talks and to mentor students.
We are quite a
large college, most of our new students say. But actually overall we are only
the size of a medium comprehensive school. Despite the fact that we have a lot
of buildings and spread out over a large site, we are smaller than many of the
schools you go to. Smaller than Ashmole, East Barnet, Mill Hill County,
Fortismere, APS, Highgate Wood, for example.And we have smaller class sizes than many sixth forms, especially in
popular subjects. But, of course, the year groups are big – because everyone is
in Year 12 or year 13.
The feel is quite
schooly in some ways – we have the same strong pastoral framework as a school,
with registrations, notes from parents if ill, form groups, tutors monitoring
progress, reports and parents evenings, just like a school. Students do not get
lost in the system – why would they, after all, we are the same size as a
medium comprehensive school.
And we are tough
on students where their attendance or their work is not up to scratch. Perhaps
I should spell that out: if you want to go to a college because you want to be
left alone by teachers, left alone to do the work or not, left alone to attend classes
or not, left alone to do your own thing like the adult you feel you are, well
there are colleges like that. Woodhouse is not one of them. We will chivvy you
and follow up on our concerns, and we will demand excellent attendance and all
work handed in on time, and we will intervene if we think you are
underperforming. We believe in a strong relationship with parents, and we get
in touch where there are concerns. Our retention is very high – we don’t lose
students – which says something about the support we give them, but also about
the nature of our students, who are lively, ambitious and committed to success.
We are not an
exams factory and our ethos is to provide a bridge to university and adulthood.
We provide a huge number of opportunities for students to get involved in
activities outside the classroom, and this coming year we are expanding our
With the changes
to the A level curriculum, we are taking the opportunity to deliver even more
extra-curricular activities which are meaningful and which enhance students’
development, skills and progression. We are calling this new programme
WoodhousePlus. Students will be able to choose from a large menu of activities
- Duke of Edinburgh
– Gold or Silver
- Learn a language
: Japanese, Latin, German, Spanish...
- Specialist career
academies for business, law and medicine in the first instance. Including
speakers, trips, internships and work experience, support for university
applications and tests
- Oxbridge academy
- Leadership skills
- Debates, Model UN
and other public speaking and personal presentation skills development
- Sports leadership
Plus a huge
sporting programme involving teams and short courses and opportunities to try
out different sports.
societies such as Amnesty, Femsoc, Freetrade group, LGBT group, subject
societies – like history.
Our students are
always quick to come forward with new ideas and to volunteer for activities and
events. As a result, there is always something going on, always a cake sale in
the social area, notices of events in our student bulletin. Lots of our
students do volunteering, mentoring, buddying and charity fundraising.
I say we are not
an exam factory, but of course the measure of a school is in their
results. This year, once again, our A
level results place us in the top five sixth form colleges in the country when measured
by the A*–B pass rate, which is one of the most representative and fairest
measures. Last year was frankly not one of our best for A levels, although our
AS level results were very good and bode well for this coming year.
We usually have a
99% pass rate at A level. In fact, so does everyone, because most schools weed
out students at the end of Year 12 who are heading for failure. One of the
questions you might ask as you go round schools is how many they lose at the
end of Year 12? We lose hardly any.
Beyond the pass
rate, we usually have about...
- Two thirds grades
at the high A*-B grades, last year
dipped very slightly under that
- 10-12 students to
studentsto medical school
- About 50% to
Russell Group universities and more to other good universities:
(other good uni’s eg Bath, Courtauld for art
history, US colleges)
I need to say
something about the A level curriculum, which has changed this year. As you may
know, A levels have gone linear.
This means that
they are now two-year courses with the exams at the end of Year 13. Like they
used to be when I was at school.
AS exams still
exist but don’t contribute to the A level grade, and so like many schools, we
have decided not to do them. Instead we will be able to use the summer for
teaching and other activities, and we will have internal exams at the end of
Woodhouse students will take three A level subjects for the full two years. A
few will take four, just like they used to in the old days, but students will
no longer drop a subject as they go into the second year.
To be clear, all
universities except a few medical schools are making it clear that they will
assess applications on the basis of three A level grades, that there is no
advantage in taking four or in taking AS levels. Quite a few are bringing in
their own entrance tests, and so students may have to do extra work, take extra
time preparing for those entrance tests, which is another reason to concentrate
on only three subjects.
We are taking the
opportunity to increase the amount of teaching per A level subject. Our
teaching time will increase 20% by a whole extra lesson in each subject.
That’s another question you might ask at other sixth form open evenings – are
they increasing lesson time or just using the opportunity to save money?
Many of you will
need some help in choosing your subjects, especially now that most of you will
be doing only three subjects. It is very hard to ask a 15 or 16 year-old to
choose subjects which may determine the rest of their life!
My advice is
- Firstly, if you
are interested in a particular career or potential career, make sure you
research carefully. Don’t just rely on hearsay and rumour. For example, every
year students tell me they have heard you have to do maths for medicine, but
it’s not true; it’s mostly not true. All the universities publish what A Levels
they need for individual courses. Spend time researching them, and ask staff
- If you have no
particular career in mind, choose subjects you are good at and you enjoy. Do
not do a subject just because you have heard universities like it.
- Do as much
research as you can on subjects that are new to you – like psychology,
sociology, philosophy, classics, etc. Find out what they are like.
- The Russell Group
advises that students take two facilitating subjects – many of you will be
aware of this. It is a good guideline but it is only a general guideline for
keeping options open. Many students ignore it and still happily and easily get
into RG and other good universities.
- Don’t assume you
should only do facilitating subjects – not even the RG say that. A couple of
years ago year we had a student last year got into Cambridge to study history.
Her three A levels were history, Eng lit and drama and theatre studies. Drama is actually a brilliant subject for high flyers because you learn self confidence
and communication skills through it. I think it is easy to see how a subject
like drama could help potential medics for example.
- Think very
carefully before you take any science subjects – sometimes that doesn’t work
out well. Only do science or maths if you are genuinely good at them, genuinely
When you start
here, we will give you the opportunity to change courses if they are not what
you expected. But it is always better to get it right in the first place.
You have a lot of
choices for sixth form. You are lucky, living in London, with free bus travel,
surrounded by a large variety of excellent sixth forms. That means a lot of
opportunities for you, but it means you have to think carefully.
And it’s an
individual decision. The place that’s right for you is not necessarily right
for your friend.
Do you want to
stay at your own school? That is a good decision for a lot of people. You know
what that’s going to be like.
Or go to another
school sixth form? Many schools are under financial pressure at the moment,
they have big holes in their budget. So they are looking to squeeze extra
students (externals, they call them) into their sixth form. But it does mean
joining someone else’s sixth form where you are an outsider.
Or come somewhere
like this where everyone is new together.
So, what kind of
person is right for Woodhouse? What kind of person thrives here?
- You need to be
academically strong. Our average student has mainly As at GCSE.
- You should be
genuinely interested in your studies not just to get the grades but because you
actually enjoy maths or English of history and you like studying them. Like the
Cambridge professor of English who visited us last year who said “every minute
when she is not reading is a minute wasted”. Woodhouse students enjoy studying,
enjoy the challenge of working hard and at a high level.
- And you want to
be challenged – both academically and socially – you want to develop as a
Finally, a word about our application process. Our
applications open today, online via our website. The deadline is January 16. We
are likely to get in the region of 4500-5000 applications – for 650 places, about 7
applications for every place. We are no longer interviewing this year. So we
will offer places on the basis of your application and your school’s
Our main criteria are:
- Predicted grades
- Distance ( we usually limit offers to
around an hour and a quarter journey time)
- Subject combinations
So – thank you
for coming. Prospectuses are available outside in the social area. Feel free to
wonder around. Have a look at the library and the learning zones. Staff are in
departments, ready to talk and answer questions. Around 300-400 students have
volunteered to give up their Saturday to help and to answer your questions.
Your choice of
sixth form is a big step, and so is your choice of subject, so think about what
you are interested in, what you are good at, what will help you with particular
career options, and go and talk to the right people whilst you are here.
Enjoy the day and
the rest of your weekend."