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Hills Road Sixth Form Cambridge - any experiences please?

(18 Posts)
1nd1mom Thu 10-May-18 12:53:58

My first post on mumsnet, so apologies if I don't get it all right!

My DS (rather nerdy and quirky, enjoys academic challenge and others of his ilk) has an offer from Hills Road as an out of area applicant. We are new to the area and I hear mixed opinions of the college. The open day visit gave us a rather rushed sense of what was on offer.

Any parents out there who can share recent experiences - both good and not so good? He is planning to study Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chem for A levels.

Questions in my mind are : How is the pastoral care? Can a 16 year old, who won't know anyone else there, fit in easily? What kind of support does the college offer initially? Does the very large size make it impersonal - a case of 'sink or swim'? Academically, how are students supported for learning, extending themselves etc? Are teachers approachable, helpful and friendly?
What kind of support is there for Univ applications, including Oxbridge? What is the work load like, compared to a non selective sixth form in a school?

His other options are a local comprehensive and a specialist Maths school in London (a very long commute!).

He doesn't have a preference yet (GCSEs on his mind at present), but he may get a better idea after an orientation day in July.

I am concerned about him choosing an option which may turn out to be overwhelming! Any views, experiences, opinions would be very helpful.

Thanks!

Jaynebxl Thu 10-May-18 12:57:16

You might get more replies in the Cambridge local mumsnet bit.

I've been to visit and had a tour and I was really impressed. I've got a couple of friends who teach there who also love it. It does feel quite pressured but it does have a lot of very bright students so I think some of that comes from the students themselves who really want to achieve. There's good pastoral support. And everyone will be new as students come from all over the city and way beyond.

Haberpop Thu 10-May-18 12:59:39

I don't have a positive experience of it, my dd went there ten years ago and hated it so much she left after a year. She knew no-one there as all her friends had opted for Long Road but the academic side of Hills appealed to her. She found the workload manageable and it did prepare her for uni but she found it very cliquey and it was hard for her to make friends (first time ever, she has had no trouble making friends in her life generally). I do know others have had better experiences though.

1nd1mom Thu 10-May-18 13:35:35

Thanks Jaynebxl for that super quick response. Good to hear the teachers' perspective too. (Now to figure out how to cross post this on the Cambridge local! )

Haberpop - I did hear other such stories, so wondered about the pastoral care and what the college did to help students settle in. Hope to find out more about this.

Jaynebxl Thu 10-May-18 14:01:38

I think a lot has changed in 10 years. When I looked round a couple of years ago they had invested quite heavily into a student welfare officer and various other things, and seemed very sensitive to the idea of students needing emotional support.

Teenmum60 Thu 10-May-18 22:42:33

Sorry, not really a help ...but DD and I went along to the Open Evening at Hills and felt really overwhelmed by its size ...it does have a great reputation and well done for your DS getting an out of area offer.

In terms of the Maths school, there is a mom on the GCSE thread whose son also has an offer probably at the same school (I do know a child who attended the Maths school too, and speaks highly if it (her DD is now at Oxford)...but not sure whether this would be offset by a long commute!)

1nd1mom Fri 11-May-18 09:34:22

Thanks for the pointer to the Maths school thread - will look it up. We were very impressed with the school, but as you point out the long commute is a factor. I guess DS is lucky to have a difficult choice between 2 good options :-)!
Hoping to find out more about the Hills Road experience.

evenstrangerthings Sat 12-May-18 05:32:55

My DD went to and my DS currently goes to the specialist Maths school. There are definitely a few students who travel from far outside London. It's an excellent school. My 2 kids are quite different in personality from each other and both love/loved it. Of course, Chemistry A Level isn't available there, so if your child is considering Medicine, then Hills Road would be better.

1nd1mom Sun 13-May-18 10:16:21

Thanks for the info about KCLMS evenstrangerthings. Great to hear that both your DCs feel so positively about the school. Are they both doing/planning to do Maths at Uni?

My DS does enjoy Chem, Design and tinkering etc as much as Maths, so that's also one of the doubts about KCLMS - whether he would be narrowing down his options too early. Though in all other ways it feels like the school would totally 'fit' him.

How much free time and encouragement do they get to pursue other interests (programming projects, gaming, building things etc) given that the school emphasizes Maths enrichment in the timetable?

I get a sense that there may be more free time and a less intense pace at a sixth form college like Hills Road. Happy to be corrected on this.

Rockmeamaryllis Sun 13-May-18 10:31:56

My son is just about to finish his second year there. We were also worried about the reputation that the college had about being very stressful, intense and unfriendly. However it seems the college has changed a lot in the past couple of years, and my son has enjoyed his time there. Other parents who have had older children there, as well as this year, say the same. The work load hasn’t been too intense. He is doing Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Computer Science. There is a lot of support and tips for students to try for Oxbridge, and other universitys. There are a lot of extra activities which students are encourage to join. If you want any more info, let me know, and I’ll ask him when he gets up! Good luck with exam season!

1nd1mom Sun 13-May-18 18:12:55

Rockmeamaryllis - very reassuring to hear your DS's experience with HRSFC. Really appreciate your offer of more info.

My DS had several questions:
How many free periods does your DS get in a week and is he able to leave college early/go in late? How friendly and approachable are the teachers and how has he found the teaching and academic support? What is the student ethos like - do they generally work together/support each other or is it very competitive? Was the Univ application process well supported?

All the best with exams!

ihatethecold Sun 13-May-18 18:32:56

I know a few teens that go there. All very clever. Some have left because it’s impersonal. They didn’t like the ethos of the place. Some are doing very very well. It’s down to the individual really.
I have heard there is dealing in the hub but I imagine it’s like that in most large colleges.
I’m there as a mature student atm and quite like it.

evenstrangerthings Sun 13-May-18 20:26:22

My DD went on to study Comp Sci at Uni. DS will almost certainly apply to do a straight Maths degree.

There's lots of after school and lunchtime clubs at KCLMS, run by both students and teacher eg. Robotics, Art, Knitting, Drama, D and D, Magic Club. Students are encouraged to set up a club if they have an interest they want to share. My DD ran a club and attended sessions at some of the clubs I listed. My DS has hardly attended any and this has been commented on by his form tutor!

The school makes a real effort to broaden students' interests. My DS does rock climbing as his option for the school PE session and there are plenty of sporting options including MMA and walking!

Their Oxbridge stats must be one of the highest in the country. Something like 17 out of 69 students went on to Oxbridge from last year's cohort.

evenstrangerthings Sun 13-May-18 20:35:11

In Year 13, students can come in late/leave early if they don't have lessons, however during the main exam period there's no official study leave. Many days my DD went straight from an exam into a targeted revision session to prep for the upcoming exams. These sessions were targeted at students' weaknesses and each student had a personal timetable during that period.

Intense, yes, but it worked (the school has a particularly high value added score)

Perhaps you can ask KCLMS if they can connect you with other parents whose kids have a long commute. In my DD's year there were students from Sussex, Slough and even Manchester (that student stayed with relatives in London during the week)

Rockmeamaryllis Mon 14-May-18 09:55:26

OK, I spoke to my son, and here were his answers.

He has free periods everyday, ranging from 1 to 3. During that time he doesn’t have to be at college, so he can go in late, come home early, or go out during the day. Parents get a weekly email stating if any lessons were missed or late. Occasionally lessons get cancelled by teachers and students are informed by email, so students don’t have to be then. Authorised absence includes uni open days, interviews etc.

Teachers are friendly and approachable, including his Maths and Physics teachers. He has contacted them by email out of hours and they’ve replied. Teaching and academic support is good. He has a form tutor and a tutor period once a week. He says that’s pointless, they just get shown videos on mental health etc. He has progress reviews with his tutor and can discuss any problems.

Students are not competitive with each other, quite the opposite. They have group chats to discuss lessons, and help each other, and give each other advice.

Uni application process is very good ( better than other colleges who’s parents I’ve spoken to) Teachers are very helpful.

Friendships. My son tended to stick with his old school friends at first, but then became great mates with people from his subjects after the first term. Cambridge leisure park is 5 mins away and has a cinema, bowling alley and restaurants, which is great for after school.

Overall my son highly recommends the college. Any more questions please ask!

RainbowLipstick Mon 14-May-18 10:08:31

I was there last year.(yes, I know, why is such a yoof on Mumsnet grin)
It’s good, but yeah it is pretty “sink or swim” - it is what you make of it. You have to put the work in and be very self-motivated because you don’t have your hand held.

That said, I liked every one of the teachers I had there. I found the Maths department really good and the facilities at Hills are good, nice clean modern buildings etc.

I found my personal tutor/general pastoral care and disability support very helpful and kind, but you do have to actively approach them yourself if you need support with something.

You have to do an EPQ which is quite boring and pointless but not the end of the world.

In first year you have to do enrichment but they have loads of choices and you can choose DofE if you so wish.

Personally I think it’s an excellent place to develop some independence in preparation for uni. They do have a dedicated careers department who are pretty good and specific support for Oxbridge and Med/Dent/Vet candidates.

I didn’t really have that many friends whilst I was there (didn’t really know anyone in my year) but I made a couple of lovely ones and still had a perfectly nice experience at Hills. People tend to drift around there and rarely take many classes with their friends so you don’t tend to feel left out.

TL;DR yes, I would recommend Hills.

1nd1mom Mon 14-May-18 20:09:32

Thanks everyone, for your very reassuring and helpful replies. I've passed on all the recommendations and information to DS and will let him decide. Right now he is deep in the throes of the GCSE exams which start tomorrow smile.
Rockmeamaryliss could I PM you if he has any further questions - which he may after the exams, as decision time comes closer?

Thanks again for all the responses!

Rockmeamaryllis Mon 14-May-18 20:40:35

Yes, of course.

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