Whether destined for university, vocational course or apprenticeship, Sussex Downs College offers a vast array of options.
Strong links with business community have allowed courses to be developed to meet the needs of local employers, and ensure students have the best skills for today’s challenging jobs market.
Large campuses in Eastbourne and Lewes provide a dizzying number of A levels, Access to Higher Education courses, Foundation Degrees and professional qualifications to 6,525 students aged 19 and under, and 11,031 adult learners. Everything from bricklaying, engineering and fine art to economics and politics can be found, housed in a series of distinctive blocks reflecting the character of the courses. Workshops and classrooms are interspersed with relaxing areas to chill out and socialise. Learning resource areas are packed with students busily working away.
Principal and chief executive Melanie Hunt said: “We’re working with 800 employers across the area and we support them training their own staff, with apprentices who come to college one day a week and we also offer training in the workplace.”
“We’re not about doing qualifications for the sake of it. All our qualifications are a stepping stone to further education or to employment.”
She said Sussex Downs offers a wide range of pathways for students, whatever their ability or level of entry. “We will have something suitable for you,” she said. “We’re not about doing qualifications for the sake of it. All our qualifications are a stepping stone to further education or to employment.”
Range, relevance and rigour
Melanie said the college focuses on the ‘Three Rs’ – range, relevance and rigour. The rigour aspect comes from the constant testing done by outside award bodies, who benchmark all courses to ensure everything is done to the highest standard. “The most important thing about the college is our relevance – our job is to support the community and help it to grow and thrive. It’s about offering educational opportunities, and how that makes a difference to people’s lives.”
College has seen increased demand for mixed courses – made up of two A levels and a vocational qualification. This type of training can be more practical than purely academic courses and can leave more options open at the end. Apprenticeships that go all the way up to degree level also proving popular, and can provide an affordable alternative to a university course further from home.
Melanie said: “University is a hugely enriching academic experience, but a very expensive decision these days. Young people are realising they have to be really sure the degree they are choosing will help them get a job in the future, and isn’t just something that’s interesting to do.”
Catering and Hospitality students at Sussex Downs have the opportunity to work with local restaurants, and worked with local Indian restaurant to cook for the Lashings 11 cricket team. On-site restaurant and bistro King’s is open to the public and also used for charity dinners organised, catered and hosted by students. This taste of real work environment with practical experience and a chance to meet industry professionals maximises students’ chance of moving into work at the end of study.
Same is true of sports facilities, with many local groups making good use of the college’s impressive indoor hall and outdoor track. This is located on the Eastbourne campus and is a joint project between the college, borough and county councils and Sport England. Local primary schools also invited in for a sports festival every year, organised and led by college students. Members of the public can take advantage of facilities including hair salon and beauty therapy rooms.
College links with wider community don’t end there. Business students work with local businesses who help and inspire them to set up their own ventures. Media students run youth radio station and work with local schools. South Downs rangers from the National Park are working on environmental project with students. Public services course trains young people who want to join uniformed services and other public services, and students are now working as PCSOs.
Sussex Downs College is proud of its award-winning students on all levels, who win national awards, gain sporting recognition and win medals in regional competitions.
Academic subjects attract students from a wide radius. One A level student said: “There were sixth forms closer to home, but the choice of subjects here was really good, and I really wanted to move away from the school environment. Here, we’re treated like adults, we’re encouraged to take responsibility and develop independent learning skills. I’ve met loads of new people and it’s a good stepping stone to university.”
Student involvement and engagement in college life also highlighted as a real plus. Student executives work closely with staff to raise issues and ask for changes. “They listen to our feedback and adapt things to make it better. They really care about us all as individuals,” one student added.
With such a tempting and huge range of opportunities, there really is something for everyone.