The Business of Education
Thames Ditton can sometimes seem a little too somnolent when everyone has rushed to work and children have been delivered to school. So it gladdens my heart when I spy little groups of young men and women chattering and laughing as they make their way past my house to College. They do inject life into our community and they also seem very happy to be going to their day's education. Every day 1,506 newly emerging adults come into our village and yet, because the college is tucked away from the road, nestled in greenery, how many of us know what fantastic work is achieved on the site of what was once a pig farm?
Mr Keith Blackwell, the Principal for the past ten years, is fiercely proud of his Sixth Form College. After an investment of £7 million in buildings and facilities and achieving Grade 1 in every category of the Ofsted inspection it has now been given Beacon College status. Mr Blackwell has overseen some dramatic changes, not least the removal of such colleges from local authority control, thrusting Esher College into a new role as an almost independent small business. The building, which once housed Surbiton Boys School, now boasts an amazing Learning Centre and IT facility, of which the students have unlimited use. The state of the art computer suites mean that students can also interact with their teachers from their own home and although they do not have to be on site for the whole day, they have an electronic registration system and their attendance is carefully monitored.
The students come not only from Thames Ditton, but from far and wide attracted by the high standard of education provided by the College. Esher College is one of the top ten colleges in the country, with 85% of its students going on to study at university. Any student of the age 16 -19 is welcomed by the college, but applications are taken on a first come first served basis, and it is always hugely oversubscribed! Keith has successfully strived to create an adult atmosphere, an half way house between the rigid structure of a school environment and the totally independent university life. The college, aided by modern buildings and friendly student/staff relationships, has created a very positive feeling in which the students can work. They can also relax at breaks and lunchtimes in a spacious modern cafeteria that serves an appealing menu of hot food and snacks. Plasma screens across the college advertise the daily cafeteria menu, the lunchtime talk on the history of anaesthesia and the performances of "The Return of the Native" which was being held in the College's 300 seat theatre.
Keith believes that his students not only need academic development but also interests outside of academia. The college has two football pitches, a rugby pitch, tennis and netball courts and a huge indoor sports hall. The youngsters are given opportunities to act in Drama performances and attend lunchtime lectures on a variety of subjects by exciting speakers. Students also have a "wider skills week" at the end of their first year, where they might have experience in travel, field trips and work. With tough Health and Safety requirements it is getting much harder to arrange work experience - a vital aspect of their education. Can you help?
Mr Blackwell is also very keen to foster close relationships with the local community. With this is mind he stresses to his students the need to be respectful to the College's neighbours and to the village. He meets with representatives of the surrounding roads every six months to discuss any concerns arising. Mr Blackwell has also set up a team to nurture the College's Adult Education Programme. Jo Hampton, the Adult and Leisure Activities Manager, tel: 020 8335 2544, is continuing to develop the programme, getting a feeling of what interests the Thames Ditton community through the many inquiries she receives. At the moment languages are really popular, Mandarin is being introduced in September, but there are also courses in Health and Fitness, Art and Design, Counselling and Life Skills and Computers/IT. The college employs 30 part time adult tutors mostly from the local community. It is not only the adult community with which Keith wishes to build links. The Elm Partnership is a group of schools and colleges, which meet to discuss how they can work together. The College allows schools to use its facilities free of charge. Thames Ditton Junior School is having its Sports Day in July at Esher College. Local groups and clubs also use the wonderful facilities. Molesey Junior Football Club under 11 Girls Five a Side team play in the Sports Hall, Surrey Youth Ballet,Kingston Chamber Music Society and the Institute of Directors are some of the diverse groups that use the College after the students have gone home. Mr Derek Hempston is the person to speak to if you think your group would be interested in hiring a College facility: his telephone number is 020 8972 9106.
So when you see those youngsters passing through Thames Ditton, remember that they come here as older children, nervous and excited about attending a new school. At the end of two years they leave as mature young adults, ready to tackle the world and all it can throw at them. We are as fortunate to have them here, as they are to spend two years in such a fine environment. Our reporting staff