Education: ‘Every student is important to us’

Melanie Hunt - proud of an excellent year for Sussex Downs College
Melanie Hunt - proud of an excellent year for Sussex Downs College

THE head of the town’s main sixth form college has hailed 2011 as an “excellent” year for her pupils and staff.

A proud Melanie Hunt, who was instrumental in the success of the recent town-wide 100 apprenticeships in 100 days scheme, believes Sussex Downs College is going from strength to strength.

And she told the Herald she is confident 2012 can be an equally impressive year.

She said, “We are really pleased with the progress out students have made.

“Of all students who enrolled with us the number who achieved their qualification is 82 per cent – that’s up from 74 per cent five years ago and puts us in the top ten per cent of all colleges in the UK.”

Results for long-term courses also nestled nicely in the ten per cent nationwide slot and, as you would expect from a college which got behind the recent Herald-supported drive, the success of apprenticeships has also increased.

A total of 78 per cent of people who start on them now qualify, compared to 66 per cent back in 2009 – a significant rise and one which is no accident.

Sussex Downs staff have tried hard to embrace courses which suit all academic levels and interests, particularly in preparing local teenagers and mature students for entry into the over-crowded job market.

In fact, the success rate for the advanced level apprenticeships sits at 84 per cent – nine per cent above the national average.

It was a source of particular pride with the head. “That is one of our key areas and we will continue to campaign for more apprenticeships. We want to work with local organisations and companies to really get the message across that taking on an apprentice is good for business.”

Helping not just the academic young people of the town is central to the college’s ethos, with Ms Hunt keen to highlight the work her staff does in helping Eastbourne’s NEETs, or Not in Education, Employment of Training to give the full name.

In fact, such was the success of its work, Sussex Downs has since been awarded a £1.6million contract to run similar schemes across East Sussex, Brighton and Hove and Surrey and begun working with the Prince’s Trust.

It is clearly something close to Ms Hunt’s heart. “I cannot reinforce this enough,” she enthused.

“Sussex Downs College is determined to make a difference to young people’s lives by re-engaging with them, challenging them to do better and by providing opportunities to for them to go forward and excel.”

Excelling is something the college seems to have had no trouble doing in recent years. Last year saw record A Level results and overall success was up on 2010. A number of pupils won places at either Oxford or Cambridge and the college received a highest ever mark during an official inspection.

Individual students such as Abbey Fenton (National Apprentice of the Year runner up) and Graham Reynolds (national award for his skills in electro-technical work) saw their achievements celebrated, while a host of pupils represented the county and region in a range of sports, from boxing to sailing and street hockey to rugby.

And it is not just the town’s teens who benefit from the college’s blossoming collection of state-of-the-art facilities. Adult learners have access to an array of course – with Ms Hunt keen to add more locals to her growing register.

“I do not think people really understand what we do here,” she said. “People are always surprised at the range of what is available.”

A glimpse of that is available online at the college’s website ( with prospectuses also available by post but according to the principal, there is a lot more to studying at Sussex Downs than initially meets the eye.

The reassuringly enthusiastic Ms Hunt lifted the lid on the stack of extra methods employed at the college – including sending teenagers out on attractive work experience placements.

“We try and provide students with real work experience to help them progress – like restaurants and salons. We have had people working in the music industry, with bands like Gorillaz, Mumford and Sons and Duran Duran, which gives them an excellent introduction to the business and really captures their imaginations.”

Most people, according to Ms Hunt, leave college not just with certificates, but happy.

“Every pupil is important to us,” she said. “And we work hard to make sure they have the right support in place to fulfil their potential.

“When they leave more than 90 per cent of our students say they have enjoyed their courses and been helped to progress and 95 per cent would recommend the college to a friend. It shows we must be doing something right.”