Woodhouse College
Alica Derome Rebecca Saul

Principal's remarks - Open Day 2019

The following is a transcription of Principal John Rubinstein's speech to visiting students and parents at our open day on Saturday 9th November 2019. 
Thank you for coming to our open day. We don’t offer tours because people are usually just interested in a few subjects, so we invite you to take a prospectus, which has all the information you need about the college including our online application process, and we invite you to wonder round the college, visiting the subjects of interest. Do pop into the library – I think you will be impressed.
The sixth form is a crucial time, a special time – and we are specialists in sixth form.
The sixth form is a launch-pad into adulthood. Young people join as Year 11 school kids and they leave as 18-year olds, off to university and the adult world. Sixth-formers need specialist support, systems and environment to bring out the best in them and let them flourish.
Woodhouse College is a specialist sixth form. We have made our reputation and built our success on doing one thing only and doing it as well as we can: being a sixth form, providing an A level education, being a bridge to university and adulthood.
And our success is considerable.
Our A level results last year placed us third best sixth form college in England, best college in London.
Two thirds of all grades were top A*-B; 114 students got straight A* and A grades. Over 56% went to Russell Group universities; 22 to Oxford and Cambridge; and hosts of others to top destinations in their field – whether that be medical school, top Russell Group universities, other excellent universities, or even colleges abroad, for example in the US or Canada.
Our academic success is clear. If you are an aspiring high-achiever, if you want to work hard and achieve your potential, if you want to go to the elite universities, this is the place for you. We provide the support for you to achieve your dreams; the opportunities that enable you to build up your cv; we are experts in UCAS (university applications), in Oxbridge and medical school applications; in providing coaching for STEP, UCAT and other entry tests.
But we are more than an academic hot house. Because that’s not what our young people need. We provide a holistic environment where our young people can grow and become the people they want to be.
It is a real privilege for us to see the process of students growing before our eyes, to play a role in helping students develop, mature into adults and go off confidently into the adult world.
Part of our expertise is our strong pastoral support systems. You may have heard the opposite, you may have heard that students are left to sink or swim, you may have heard all sorts of things from schools who are, frankly, desperate to keep hold of students because of their finances and ruthless in their campaigns of misinformation about rivals.
Our pastoral support is outstanding. Students have a form tutor and above them a senior tutor, just like at school. We have safeguarding staff to look after students when life gets serious and personal problems overwhelm them; we have counsellors, progress managers to support and mentor students, a full time careers coordinator,an additional learning support team dept that is second to none, attendance staff and a host of other staff to support and challenge students. The proof of the effectiveness of that team is that we lose hardly any students. Our retention is outstanding.
You might worry, incidentally, that we are so big that students might get lost here. And our students will tell you that we are big. A lovely large campus with several different buildings and grounds that are well used in the dry, warm months of the year, not to mention our all-weather pitch with its 3G surface. We are big and yet in other ways we are not. We are smaller than most local state schools, smaller than APS, Fortismere, Ashmole, Mill Hill County, Highgate Wood, East Barnet, smaller than all of them, with fewer staff, fewer students. All our staff fit in one room, once a week for staff briefing. Why would students be lost or overlooked in a school that is smaller than the average comprehensive? Our average class size, by the way,is 20 with no class over 24.
But it feels big, feels almost like a university, a bridge to university but in a safe, supported and structured environment.
One of the advantages of having a larger year group is that we can offer pretty much any combination of subjects. Unlike a school sixth form.
Another advantage is that we can offer a far better extra curricular programme than most school sixth forms. We think that extracurricular activities are really important, a chance to develop skills, have different experiences and challenges, develop personally in new and different ways, build the cv. We have a huge array of societies, sports, activities, trips, Duke of Edinburgh, musical theatre, prom, debating, model UN, you name it we have it, and a lot of volunteering, including in local schools. We have fantastic ‘career academies’ such as our medicine academy, law academy and architecture academy. These include work place visits, work experience, visiting speakers, skills and portfolio development, allowing students to prepare themselves for a competitive application.
A word on the curriculum, which is now fully linear and based on exams at the end of Year 13. No AS levels anymore. Like GCSEs, A levels have been made harder. Almost everyone just does three. Universities only expect three, even top ones like Oxford and Cambridge.A few students do four, but it is tough and I would only advise it if there is a specific reason and if the student has outstanding GCSE results, 8s and 9s.
Choice of A levels is important, perhaps the most important decision .... do your research! Choose subjects that you are good at and that you enjoy. Don’t do a subject just because people tell you it is well regarded. I haven’t got time here to go into all the advice that I would like to give – I do a whole assembly on that sometimes, when I am invited to our partner schools. But I have written some advice on my blog, that you can get to from our website. Take the opportunity today to find out about subjects, talk to staff and students.
There are all sorts of ways of measuring a school’s standards, some of which I have mentioned. But there are two I want to mention which are quite interesting
  • The size of our alumni organization – several thousand students - and the willingness of our ex-students to come back, to give back, mentoring students, doing talks, giving mock interviews, providing role models. It says something about a school, doesn’t it, that so many ex-students want to give back to the community.
  • How many staff would send their own kids to the school? My two daughters came here from local schools and so did dozens of other staff children, and we have several every year. This year, there are three staff children here. It says something that our staff choose this college as their number one choice for their own children.
I started by saying that Woodhouse is a specialist sixth form. We are also a special place, I think. A place where high achieving students can be openly ambitious and work hard to achieve their dreams, a place where people find their feet as young adults and go out into the world with confidence. We had a visit from an Oxbridge specialist this week doing some interview workshops and mock interviews, and she took me aside at the end and asked: this is such an amazing college and you do so well: what’s your secret? Our secret is excellent staff, who are specialists in their subjects but also in sixth form education, fantastic students, and a culture of high expectations.