Presented here and compiled from various sources is a history of the Sixth Form College, Colchester, for the interest of visitors to the site. The information presented here is a work in progress and will be expanded when new information becomes available.

The North Hill Site

The Sixth Form College is located on a very important Roman site, on top of a hill in central Colchester.

The southern half of the college site lies within the site of a Roman legionary fortress of the earlier Roman period. The fortress was founded in c. AD44 and was the first of its kind in Britain. As a building project there had previously been nothing like it in terms of its scale, logistics, speed and innovation. This site was excavated in 1984 revealing parts of the contubernia (men’s quarters) of the barrack-block.

A sizeable proportion of the north-west corner of the site also formed a walled town of the latter Roman period. Within this were a series of metalled streets, running both north to south and east to west. These ran between “insulae”, or blocks of housing, which were numbered one to forty.

The site of the main college buildings occupies several of these insulae, (mainly those numbered one and nine), within which the Romans built large, high-status dwellings between the 2nd and 4rd centuries AD. These included a mansio, (an official stopping place for Roman state officials). A well preserved room, which may have been part of a small bath-house or possibly a shrine to a water deity, was found just to the north of the newly constructed mid-site building in 2006. Colchester was the capital of Roman Britain and these buildings were used by those at the very heart of governance of Britain, as well as Emperors and officials.

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire there appears to have been very little in the way of post-Roman activity on the college site until the 17th Century. There is a substantial depth of topsoil on the entire site. Throughout the medieval period the college site was probably used for small-scale horticulture. Cartographic evidence from the late 8th century onwards shows the site as largely kitchen gardens with some areas covered by trees. Two Royalist cannon positions are shown on the civil war siege of Colchester map of 1648, one of which may have been within the college grounds. A brewery was built in the 18th Century on the north east corner area of the site.

Educational provision on the North Hill Site (1912 – 1987)

The distinctive Edwardian buildings that house the oldest part of The Sixth Form College have become a familiar sight to many, as they drive through Middleborough or up Balkerne Hill. Opened on 12 July 1912, these buildings have seen many changes in deployment to provide education to secondary age students. The front exterior of the 1912 building is almost completely unaltered. Built at a cost of around £13,000, on a site bought in 1908 for £3,500, the 1912 building originally housed The Colchester Technical College (School) and the Colchester County High School for Girls. In the evenings the buildings were then often used for adult education classes.

During the 1930s the Technical College became known as The North East Essex Technical College and School of Art and again, in the evenings, the buildings were used to provide adult education classes. After the Second World War education in England was reorganised into the ‘tripartite system’. The building housed two academically selective institutions: The Colchester County High School for Girls (a Grammar School for girls) and North East Essex Technical College and School of Art (a Technical School). The first ’11 plus’ entrants were admitted in these institutions in 1949 with pupils coming from across the whole of North East Essex. In 1957 The County High School for Girls then moved to new premises in Norman Way and when the new building for the Technical College (in Sheepen Road) was completed in 1959 the Art School and ‘day release’ classes were then moved there.

In 1959 the Technical College took the name Gilberd for the first time and was called The Gilberd (County) Technical School - named after Dr. William Gilberd, (1544-1603) an eminent local figure considered to be the Dr William Gilberd and who was medical adviser to Queen Elizabeth I.

During the nineteen fifties and early sixties, ‘The Gilberd’ gradually changed from a ‘Technical School’ to become a more generally academically ‘selective’ co-educational school, operating alongside the two single sex Grammar Schools in Colchester. In 1957 the first female pupil to go to University from The Gilberd started her studies at Hull University.

In 1966, in line with national Government policy changes from a few years earlier, plans were announced for the School to ‘go comprehensive’. This process did not begin until September 1980 when the move to a new site and buildings at Highwoods was commenced.

The first Headmaster was Mr. H. Wilson, 1912-1935. Other heads of the Institution prior to 1985 on the site were Mr. M. Garside, 1935-1942, Mr. E. Enoch, 1942-1953, Mr. R. Sprason, 1953-1967, Mr. J. Glazier, 1967-1971, Mr. K. Dodsworth, 1971-1972, and then Mr. D. Rowe 1972 - 1985. He then continued as Head of The Gilberd School on the new Highwoods site after 1980.

On the evening of Saturday, 6 July 1985 over 700 former pupils and teachers of The Gilberd School attended a reunion at the North Hill site. This was a remarkable expression of affection for their old school. The school and its’ pupils had ‘moved on’. In 1987 the site and 1912 building were about to begin a new life as the home of the new Sixth Form College.

The Sixth Form College, Colchester (1987 onwards)

In July 1985 the Gilberd School completed the move to Highwoods and shortly afterwards the builders began the conversion of the 1912 buildings for the Sixth Form College. The College was initially established and run by Essex County Council and was scheduled to open in September 1987. It was designed to significantly improve levels of post 16-18 educational participation and achievement in Colchester, which were at that stage were low compared to other similar towns in the South East and East of England.

The original 1912 building was extensively altered and refurbished to provide specialist facilities suitable for sixth formers and there was a significant programme of new building to add a sizeable extension to the 1912 building. This cost over £3 million.

John Edwards was appointed as Principal, David Linnell and Bob Eden were appointed as Vice-Principals and Christine Daldry as Bursar. Prior to the opening of the College in September 1987 they had to start immediately on a lengthy series of interviews in order to appoint staff both teaching and support. Every teacher within a Colchester ‘ring fence’ had the right to apply for a post at the Sixth Form College.

There is no doubt that the dynamic leadership was a crucial factor in ensuring the instant success of the College. John Edwards was an inspirational Principal who led from the front. Bob Eden served as Vice Principal until his retirement in 2005. Sadly Bob Eden died in 2010. Mrs Jane Collier was appointed Chair of Governors and served until 1995, Syd Kent, who was also one of the original Governing Body, served as Chair between 1995 and 2007, Andrew Claiborne from 2007 to 2010 and from 2010 Andy Beatty is the current Chair of Governors. In 1989 Ian MacNaughton was appointed as a Vice-Principal and has been Principal since 1997. Rosemary Denys also served as a Vice Principal between 1990 and 2002, Ian Thompson was Vice Principal from 2005 – 2012 and Frances Grew will assume this role from September 2012. Our Assistant Principals have been or are Martin Sparks, Faith Ressmeyer, Adrian Frost, Jan Harker and Anne Johnson and from summer 2012 Carol McAuley assumes this role.

In the mid-1980s planning stage Essex County Council had estimated that the College would attract 850 students. In actual fact over 1000 15/16 year old students applied for the first year and the upper sixth students from St. Helena School and the Gilberd School also transferred to the new College. The opening of the College led to a very significant increase in the number 16-19 year olds studying in education in the Colchester area and the College’s ongoing success has meant that it has experienced an ever increasing demand for places. By 1990 there were 1400 students attending the College and the College has since progressed and grown in size to a level of 3,100 students in 2012. It has been consistently oversubscribed and draws a very large number of 15/16 year old applicants from a 20 mile radius around Colchester – and some from as far as 60 miles away. A significant quantity of additional accommodation has been built since 1995 and the College also acquired the ‘Cock and Pye’ premises.

A programme of initial staff training and team building took place in 1987, including a residential weekend in Clacton, when John Edwards made his famous utterance – “I guarantee that for the rest of your lives you will never work as hard as you are going to work in the next two years!!” Arising from national changes instigated by the Government in 1992, the College became ‘incorporate’ and has been controlled directly by Central Government and its control agencies (FEFC,LSC,YPLA,EFA) since 1993.

Colchester Adult and Community College (Greyfriars) used the buildings in evenings for some of their evening adult education classes from 1987 through to 2002. CACC was subsumed into an Essex wide adult and community education service around this time and now largely operates from the Wilson Marriage Centre.

Some Characteristics of the Sixth Form College

Pastoral Care

From the outset, great importance was attached at the College to pastoral care and each student is assigned to a Tutor Group with their own Personal Tutor and Senior Tutor – a system that remains in place to this day and is central to the College’s work. Their work is now supported by a range of specialists including Careers advisors, Counsellors and a College Nurse, amongst others.

Senior staff at the college have always been very closely involved with pastoral care, with most at some point taking on the role of Senior Tutor. When the College was first established, students were divided into four pastoral ‘Divisions’, under the guidance of Senior Tutors, Rosemary Denys, Colin Hurford, Martin Sparks and Roger Pope and all students had a Personal Tutor. The number of Divisions has now grown to nine in total.

Academic Standards and Achievements

The College sets high academic standards but also caters for the needs of a wide range of student abilities and has enabled very many students to go on to Higher Education. For many of these students compared to the 1960s and 1970s it would have been unlikely or impossible for them to have had the opportunity to study in the Sixth Form, never mind progress to university. Exam results have been consistently strong and in every year since its opening the College has achieved pass rates above the national average. ‘Value-Added’ results are very strong and levels of retention very high.

Over 300 students from the first intake proceeded directly to Higher Education and over 1,000 students each year now progress to Higher Education. A number of well-established university preparation groups have emerged over the years, supporting, for example, those who wish to move on to study at Oxford or Cambridge or those who wish to study in medicine or related fields. For example, the highly successful ‘medics’ programme working with ‘would be’, Doctors, Dentists, Vets and Physiotherapists and other students aspiring to a medically related career. The programme was established in 1987 and has helped guide several hundreds of students onto places in Medical related degrees.

As Principal Ian MacNaughton explained with regard to the College’s 2011 exam grades:

"The examination successes achieved in the summer were quite outstanding - by both local and national standards. The average 'value added' results achieved - the comparison between your GCSE results on entry and your package of results on leaving, places students’ collective successes very significantly above the national average levels. Our International Baccalaureate students achieved an outstanding level of success. Their average results of 32 IB points were well above both the national and international averages.

Well over 1000 of our second year College students entered for A Level examinations last summer and the average results achieved were really excellent with average results ahead of the achievements of students at all other colleges in Essex and Suffolk and in all the Essex comprehensive schools with sixth forms. The top 100 academic achievers obtained an average UCAS point score equivalent to 2 A*s and 2 A grades at A Level. We understand that this is a higher score than the top 100 students in any school in the country, including in all selective grammar and independent schools”.

By 1991 the College had become one of the very largest A level providers in England and Wales, offering A Level courses in 41 subjects as well as repeat GCSE courses, many of the students then going on to complete A Level courses. Approximately 60 A Level subjects are now offered and the College has also become one of the country’s largest IB Diploma Programme providers since it was first introduced in 2002.

In 1997 the College was inspected by the FEFC and received a glowing report. In December 2001 the College underwent a further (Ofsted) inspection and the report was again extremely positive The College was one of the first four colleges to be awarded the new Learning and Skills Beacon Status in 2002. The College was inspected again by Ofsted in 2007 and received Grade 1 ‘Outstanding’ assessments in all 11 assessment categories.

The College was also awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Award for Higher and Further Education in 2000. The award, which was most specifically for the Science and Technology Enrichment Programme, was presented by the Queen, at Buckingham Palace.

Buildings and Facilities

The College was blessed with provision of excellent accommodation and facilities suitable for sixth form study when it opened in 1987, but there have since been substantial improvements and upgrades. Since the opening of the College in 1987 there have been four major building programmes:

In 1997-98 the main building was further extended with additional classrooms and a new imposing entrance and reception area. During this period, the college started re-acquiring some of ‘Cock and Pye’ buildings – which had been used by the Gilberd School but had been ‘sold-off’ by Essex County Council. In 2004 construction of a new ‘IT Centre’ was completed on North Site. It was opened by Alan Johnson, the Minister for Lifelong Learning.

In 2007 the largest extension of the College premises was completed on Mid-Site. This £6m building contains an ultra-modern sports hall, a large refectory, two lecture theatres as well as rooms on four levels (pictured right). During the preparatory excavations a Roman bath was discovered, including the original wooden pipe with water running through it. Photographs and information are on display at the rear of the Mid-Site building. An all-weather external sports surface was also opened on the North site in 2007.

A ‘Languages Centre’ building, located on the Northsite and comprising six teaching rooms was completed in spring 2012 (pictured left). The opening of the new building coincided with the 25th Anniversary of the College (1987-2012). The College also celebrated the centenary of the 1912 building. The Kent Pavilion Building was completed in summer 2015 and provides students with further study and social facilities.

Community Service and Charity Fund Activities

Ever since its opening Students and staff at the College have been very active in the fields of community support and charitable activities.

Weekly collections have taken place in tutor groups for the Good Foundation, which has now merged with the Russ Foundation. The Good Foundation is a health centre in one of the poorest parts of India. The College has regularly sent groups of students to work with the Good/Russ Foundation. Students have raised money as well as paying their fares. The weekly collections have raised approximately £50,000.

Since 1992 groups of students have raised money and regularly travelled to either Ecuador or Peru where they have worked to build or refurbish an orphanage. Following that they have travelled including to the Andes and visited the Galapagos Islands.

For 20 years the Charities Committee organised a sponsored walk on the first Sunday in October. Students walked along the sea-wall from Walton to Clacton, some doing the walk in both directions. Every Christmas the College raises money for mothers and children in the Colchester Refuge to go to the pantomime. There are very many one-off activities each year. For example: In 1991 a team of students cycled from Colchester to Edinburgh to raise money for the purchase and training of a guide-dog for a blind person. In the late 1990s students regularly organised a Creative Writing Evening in conjunction with the local Headway Charity. More recently students have raised substantial sums of money by holding ‘Pink Days’. Every Christmas since the opening of the College each Tutor Group has collected money and made up a hamper for a local family in need. These hampers are then passed to Social Services. Many thousands of pounds have been raised over the years and we have been able to identify at least 64 different charities or organisations for which students have raised money.

Each year the charities committee raises £3,000- £5,000 for about ten local or national charities. It meets once a week and has between eight and twenty members. It supports charities like the Terrance Higgins Trust, Children in Need, Red Nose Day and The Essex Air Ambulance.


Back in 1987 the College indoor PE facilities consisted of one 1950s Gymnasium. We now have a four court badminton sports hall, a Fitness centre and 5-a-side astro pitch. Sport is not the only area where we have seen an enormous growth in the range of events and facilities available to students.

Art and Design

In 1987 the Art & Design department was relatively small, with just two art tutors, a textiles tutor and one technician. Before the second week of term was over it had also gained a part time photography tutor. There were no computers. Students were involved in all sorts of complementary studies and the department made scenery and costumes for quite large scale productions. Two fashion shows – one based on re-cycling, one on bin bags! - gave students the opportunity to strut their creations along the concourse, to the accompaniment of loud music. The Department has now grown to a substantial size with ten teaching staff and three technicians. Art numbers have increased, Photography has become a sizeable AS/A2 course area and AS/A2 Art History has developed as a very popular curriculum area.

Computing and ICT

The first specification for the College computer network included a small number of BBC micros (about 20) and a larger number (about 80) of Research Machines personal computers with two 10mb (million characters) file servers to store student and staff work. In order to make the computers work across the College over 4 miles of cable was built into the internal walls of the building allowing, in theory, both types of computer to work across two networks. If you look carefully, you can still see the original network points in some rooms. Most of the miles of cable are still in the walls.

Over the following years the BBC micro faded away completely with the rise of the IBM PC compatible but the College has largely maintained it links with Research Machines and continues to use their work stations. As the years progressed, we moved through the various versions of MS-DOS and then on through the versions of Windows. In the IT world nothing stays the same for long.

The computer network has grown alongside the size of the College though overall at a faster rate. IT has become a much more important part of College life with the rise of social networks and virtual learning environments. The current network has over 1300 computers (a combination of PC work stations, laptops and virtual PCs) attached to it with 100 file servers providing services to the 4,000 users. Our storage capacity has reached into the terabytes regions and grows every year. That is nearly 1,000,000 times the original capacity of 20mb. The network runs comfortably at speeds over 10,000 times the original speed and will shortly move up by another factor of 10. Wireless internet connection is available for all staff and students. The College network also reaches out onto the Internet with both staff and students being able to access all its resources from anywhere on the planet where there is an internet connection. It constantly evolves as new technologies are developed and used by staff to enhance teaching and learning within the College.

Music and Performing Arts

The music departmenthas grown and flourished since 1987. We started with 13 students taking A level in the first year and now have almost 80 students taking both Music and Music Technology courses. During our time we have several successful students who have gone on to great things: Alex Neal who is co-principal percussionist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Professor at the Royal College of Music, Sarah Willson, who as a session ‘cellist played in the Beth Orton Band and played the cello solo on “Why Does It Always Rain On Me” by Travis. Sisters Clare and Charly Hutchings who have made very different careers: Clare performs in the West Orchestras as a French Horn player and Charly is a Personal Assistant to Damon Albarn, organising major events (including the Blur reunion Hyde Park Concert).

We began with a schedule of concerts and a tradition of events which has lasted to this day: as well as an Autumn concert a Spring Concert and a Carol Service we have performed in the community: sometimes providing a jazz band, sometimes a string quartet for Mayors, Legal firms and others.

A highlight was the performance of “Sweeney Todd” by Stephen Sondheim where the drama studio was transformed into Victorian London and a very talented orchestra and cast gave a series of spine chilling performances. Since 2000 the Colchester Schools Prom Concert has provided an opportunity for our students to perform in Charter Hall together with students from the other Colchester Schools. Our students provide the backbone of this event in terms of instrumentalists and singers.

Our facilities at the college have expanded tremendously: we have two small, but well equipped recording studios, 5 practice rooms, a teaching room which doubles as a small recital venue with a Yamaha Concert grand piano, and access to the main Drama Studio where most of our concerts are held as well as the Performance Studio (the old Gym where we hosted Blur for a surprise concert) with a conservatoire grand piano. We now have a suite of 35 computers with the latest Sibelius software and Sonar recording and sequencing packages.

Science and Technology

Students of Science and Technology have always benefitted from a large range of specialist laboratories and workshops and these have contributed to the year on year success of students in these fields. For example in 2011 the Chemistry Department alone saw two students win prestigious national awards from the Salters Institute and The University of Cambridge.

Additional Studies and Extra-Curricular activities (EPQ)

The College continues to develop and extend the broad curriculum that is offered to students. For example, over the past three or four years we have seen a dramatic growth in the number of students choosing to take an Extended Project Qualification alongside their core A-Level Studies. In this area, students have enthusiastically chosen to embrace the flexibility of a qualification that enables them to pursue studies in an area of their choosing. In recent years, students have received recognition for their work in a huge number of fields, including fashion, architecture, law and creative-writing.

Although so much has changed, students are still at the centre of what we do – the richness of their experience, support and encouragement and the opportunity to lean life-long skills that give them the opportunity to explore their interests creatively and to move forward with their ambitions and aspirations.