More than two years on, merger has strengthened sixth form and created significant benefits

In the competitive post-16 education sector, Hartlepool Sixth Form is emerging as one of the most successful sixth forms in the country. Its merger with Sunderland College more than two years ago has strengthened the sixth form, encouraged innovation and created significant benefits for staff, students and the local economy.

The sixth form merged with Sunderland College in September 2017 and is now part of one of the largest college groups in the country, Education Partnership North East, which also includes Northumberland College as the third college in this dynamic partnership.

Following the merger in 2017, and under the direction of new leadership and an ambitious strategic vision, Mark Hughes was appointed Head of Hartlepool Sixth Form. The former sports coach brought with him 20 years’ experience of working in the specialist sixth form sector. He says:

“We have created a culture of high expectations at Hartlepool Sixth Form and do everything possible to ensure staff and students can be the best they can be. We have embraced the power of being part of a larger college group and are delighted with the benefits it has provided to our learning community and the local economy.”

Hartlepool Sixth Form offers an extensive range of A-Level subjects and last summer achieved 100% pass rate in 20 A-Level subjects and an overall A-Level pass rate of 99.1%. Recent NART (National Achievement Rate Tables) data released by the Department of Education (DfE) last month shows that over the last two years (2016/17-2018/19), Hartlepool Sixth Form has seen an increase of 6% in A-Levels achievement rates, a 3.6% rise in A-Level pass rates and an impressive 10% increase in students achieving high grades.

The Hartlepool Sixth Form data has been extracted from the amalgamated data for Education Partnership North East, which is reported in the DfE spreadsheet. The extracted data also shows that as a standalone sixth form, Hartlepool Sixth Form would be ranked among the top 10 in the country.

In line with local demand and to offer an alternative learning experience, the sixth form also offers a select number of A-Level equivalent qualifications and vocational courses. Achievement rates across its full portfolio of AS Levels, A-Levels, GCSEs and Diplomas has increased during the last two years, by 5.8%. In addition, vocational courses at the sixth form have consistently reported a 100% achievement rate.

Mark commented:

“Our increase in achievement rates has been positively affected by a dramatic increase in our retention rates combined with excellence in teaching and learning. We have introduced robust processes to ensure ‘right student, right course’. From our advice and activities with year 10 and 11 students at local schools to enrolment interviews and extensive support during the start of term, we are able to ensure that students are on the right course where they can achieve and succeed.

“Students are at the heart of everything we do, and we focus on the importance of every individual student. We understand their expectations and aspirations and individually tailor their study programme to ensure these are met.”

One of the first changes that Mark instigated when he was appointed, was to change the timetable. The new timetable has helped to create innovation within curriculum design, develop packages of subjects that meet student aspirations and economic needs, and standardise breaks for teaching staff and students. The timetable has also enhanced the enrichment offer for students to develop new skills, improve their health and wellbeing or apply skills linked to a specific curriculum area.

The enrichment package at Hartlepool Sixth Form includes an extra hour and 30 minutes every week, which has had a positive impact on improving the progress of students and their engagement in learning. Thereare six categories of enrichment activities available which include induction; personal development and employability; academic; community; physical activity and wellbeing; and experiences. The sixth form also has Elite Sports Academies in men’s and women’s football, men’s and women’s rugby, netball and basketball, and is TASS Dual Career Accredited.

As a result of the improvement in enrichment opportunities, physics teacher Lisa Hall has been able to offer a science club. She has successfully trained a group of students to present an engaging science show with visually exciting experiments. The talented group of students have developed their skills to become proficient, enthusiastic and confident presenters and have taken the show on tour to local primary schools. Other initiatives that have been developed as part of the enhanced enrichment programme include an Eco Action Club, debating society, theatre academy, producing promotional videos for charities, mentoring opportunities and Keeping Hartlepool Tidy (litter picking in the local community).

The enrichment offer develops the whole students, motivates them to achieve and provides them with the skills valued by employers and universities including resilience, confidence, teamwork and independence. High achieving students can also take part in an honours programme, which offers further opportunities for academic achievement and personal development and enables them to make high quality applications to the country’s top universities.

Mark’s strong focus on communication means that staff are always fully informed and take ownership for the important role that they play in improving outcomes for students and the overall success of the sixth form. Their robust understanding of data also ensures accountability. He continues:

“Developing a learning community with a strong sense of history and culture at Hartlepool Sixth Form has enabled staff to feel empowered and have the confidence to experiment, embrace new technology such as Google Classroom and drive innovation. This has resulted in students having a strong connection with staff and being engaged and motivated to learn.

“I distribute an all staff email every week and there is always the opportunity for staff to speak to one of the management team. I conduct six staff briefings throughout the year, which are focused on data knowledge, how well we are performing, where we are now and where we want to be.

“I think it’s vitally important that I Iead by example. It’s essential that I’m positive and proactive and that I am highly visible within the student community. I walk around the sixth form and speak to our students and my staff do too. It helps to build an inspiring learning community.

“We have a low turnover of teaching staff, which has had a positive impact on our student achievements. The support throughout the merger period ensured that our excellent staff have stayed at the sixth form and have continued to develop and grow.”

Embracing the strength of being part of a large college group, the merger has driven innovation and enabled substantial new investments in facilities and resources over the last two years, further enhancing the learning environment and strengthening the sixth form’s specialisms in areas of regional economic priority including health and digital.

A state-of-the-art Health Hub and an industry-standard Digital Academy was opened at the sixth form last year, to meet future economic needs and allow students to have access to professional working environments, gain specialist skills and become work ready.

Following the merger, the sixth form became part of a shared vision of excellence with strong college values. The clarity of expectations is reinforced through a termly reward and recognition scheme for both staff and student who have demonstrated and implemented the college values of ambition, authentic, innovative and respectful. The reward and recognition scheme also supports with creating a culture of high expectations and a sense of community spirit.

The strength of the merger and the expertise of its leaders and staff will continue to ensure that Hartlepool Sixth Form remains at the forefront of innovations and consistently among the top performing sixth forms in the country.

For more information about Hartlepool Sixth Form; contact 01429 294444 or


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