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 from its Central Colchester (North Hill) site to its new Highwoods (North Colchester) location - and shortly afterwards the builders began the task of converting of the 1912 buildings it had previously used for the opening of the new Sixth Form College.

The College was initially established by Essex County Council, and followed a re-organisation of 11-18 education in Colchester. The College opened in September 1987. It was designed to improve levels of post 16-18 educational participation and achievement in Colchester and increase the participation levels in Higher Education- which at that stage were all low compared to other similar towns in the South East and East of England. In the mid 1980’s Essex County Council had indeed spent a considerable amount of time examining the best ways to improve 16-18 education in Colchester before making the decision to re-organise secondary education, in the town - including converting three 11-18 schools to 11-16 students, and opening the new Sixth Form College. The College was to provide 16-18 general education alongside Colchester Institute, a HE and General FE college providing 16-90 applied and vocational provision. Essentially the aim was for the two Colleges for the town and surrounding area to provide a tertiary system.

The original 1912 building was extensively altered and refurbished, between 1985 and 1987, to provide some of the specialist facilities needed and suitable for sixth formers studying A levels. Alongside this there was also a construction programme to add a very sizeable extension to the 1912 building. This building project 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, undertook a lengthy series of interviews, in order to appoint a team of teaching and support staff. Essex County Council gave every secondary school teacher within a Colchester ‘ring fence’ the right to apply for a post at the new college - and the majority of staff appointed to The Sixth Form College in 1987 were indeed from local schools.

John Edwards was Principal from 1986 until his retirement in 1997. David Linnell was a Vice-Principal 1986-1990 and Bob Eden also served as Vice Principal until his retirement in 2005. In 1989 Ian MacNaughton was also appointed as a Vice-Principal and then became Principal in March 1997.

Rosemary Denys also served as a Vice Principal between 1990 and 2002, Ian Thompson was the Vice Principal from 2005 to 2012 and Frances Grew September 2012 to 2014. In this year a revised management structure was introduced with a slightly larger team of Assistant Principals rather than a Vice-Principal. Assistant Principals in recent years have been or are Martin Sparks, Faith Ressmeyer, Adrian Frost, Jan Harker, Anne Johnson, Carol McAuley, Graham Rayner and from September 2018, Jo Cadman. Also, as part of the Senior Leadership team, the post of H.R. and Administration Senior Manager has been held by Christine Daldry, then Tina Parker, and since 2013, Sarah Williams.

Jane Collier was appointed Chair of Governors and served until 1995. Syd Kent, who was also one of the original Governing Body members, served as Chair between 1995 and 2007, Andrew Claiborne from 2007 to 2010 and Andy Beatty from 2010 to 2016. From 2016-2018 Chris Graves was Chair and from September 2018 David Morran is Chair of Governors.

During the mid-1980s planning stage Essex County Council had estimated that the new Sixth Form College would attract approximately 850 students in total. In actual fact over 1000 15/16 year old students applied for the first year of study. The upper sixth students from St. Helena School and The Gilberd School also transferred to the new College and the sixth form students from Philip Morant School the following year. The opening of the College led to a very significant immediate 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 studying at the College and the College has since progressed and steadily grown in size to a level of just over 2,900 students in 2018. The College has been consistently oversubscribed and in addition to large numbers of students drawn from Colchester and its immediate surrounding draws a very large number of 15/16 year old applicants from a 20 mile radius around Colchester – indeed, some students travel from as far as 60 miles away in N.E. London or N. Suffolk/S. Norfolk area or the Essex border areas with Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

Arising from national changes across England instigated by the Government in 1993 (through the 1992 Higher and Further Education Act) the College became ‘incorporate’ and has since been controlled directly by Central Government and its constantly changing quango ‘control agencies’ (FEFC, LSC, YPLA, EFA, and currently ESFA).

Colchester Adult and Community College (Greyfriars) used the College buildings in evenings for some of their evening adult education classes from 1987 through to 2002. CACC was then subsumed into a county wide, Essex Adult and Community Education service - and now largely operates locally from the Wilson Marriage Centre in Colchester.

Some Characteristics of the Sixth Form College

Pastoral Care, Personal Development and Enrichment

From the outset, great importance was attached at the College to pastoral care including Safeguarding and Personal Development. Each student is assigned to a Tutor Group with their own Personal Tutor and Senior Tutor – a strong 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 Health and Welfare Support Co-ordinator amongst others within the College – and also specialist outside agencies are involved where appropriate.

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 eight in total. The importance of Pastoral Care has never been greater.

All students engage in programmes of Additional Studies and extra-curricular experiences in addition to studying their academic courses. Students at the College benefit from a relatively ‘full’ and wide ranging experience – rather than just studying a narrow range of qualification bases courses.

Academic Standards and Achievements

The College sets high academic standards but within a context that it is inclusive and caters for the needs of a wide range of student abilities over the last thirty years. The College has enabled tens of thousands of students to go on to Higher Education who previously would not have done so within the pre 1987 post 16 arrangements. Exam results have been consistently strong, ‘value-added’ package of results have been very strong and levels of retention are very high – which for a relatively very inclusive College is a real set of achievements.

Over 300 students from the first year’s intake proceeded directly to university but approximately 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. A ‘languages’ programme and a Pre-Teaching programme are also offered.

As Principal Ian MacNaughton stated in 2018:

"The examination successes achieved in the summer were again excellent - by both local and national standards. The average 'value added' results achieved - the comparison between their GCSE results on entry and their 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.

Approximately 1300 second year College students entered for A Level examinations and the average results achieved were really excellent with the average package of results understood to be 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.

Approximately 50 A Level subjects and 10 A level equivalent subjects are offered and the College has successfully offer the IB Diploma Programme since 2002.

In 1997 the College was inspected by the FEFC and received a strong 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. Under much more demanding post 16 criteria Ofsted awarded Good status in 2012 and 2017 – within very strong reports.

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 first opened in 1987 (see earlier Background section) - but there have since been substantial additions, improvements and upgrades.

In 1998 Essex County Council redeployed the North Site Village of demountable accommodation to the College – in response to the larger than expected numbers. These were wholly or partially used to 2003 – when the IT Centre was constructed on through a section of the North Site.

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 sections of the ‘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 at the time – who later became a Senior Cabinet Minister.

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. 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 lower (north) part of the site and comprising six teaching rooms was completed in Spring 2012. The opening of this new building also coincided with the 25th Anniversary of the College (1987-2012). The College also celebrated the centenary of the 1912 building. The Syd Kent Pavilion Building (pictured above left) was completed in summer 2015 and provides students with further study and social facilities.

In the 2013 and 2014 period a series of extensions were added to the main building and to the Performance Studio (previously the Gym, and for The Gilberd, their Gym/Drama Studio and School Hall).