11 December 2023
Hereford Sixth Form College

George Orwell once brilliantly remarked that “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

That can be true of difficult and painful things, but it is no less true about the good: extraordinary institutions or people who have become part of the furniture of our lives, so much so that we may come to take them for granted. 

There are dozens of such institutions and hundreds, or even perhaps thousands, of such extraordinary people across Herefordshire. So in celebrating one of them in this column, I want to celebrate them all.

The one I have in mind is Hereford Sixth Form College, whose 50th anniversary falls this year. I had the honour to open their newest teaching building recently, and I was struck as I always am by what a brilliant combination of warmth, inclusiveness and rigorous standards the College offers, across the full range of a young person's potential. 

Founded in 1973, the Sixth Form College was one of its first in the country, established by Herefordshire County Council and inspired by an ideal to provide the best possible resources and educational opportunities for all students across the county. 

Over the past 50 years the College has had just five principals: Dr Geoffrey Barnes, Dr David Hudson, Dr Jonathan Godfrey, Peter Cooper and now Catherine Brearey. They have given stability and continuity as well as brilliant leadership, supported by a board of governors and a superb teaching staff. 

The result is a college which has steadily grown from 235 to over 2,000 students, which has provided the linchpin for the Heart of Mercia Trust, and which has steadily expanded and enriched the lives of its students, in sports, in music, in maths and computing and the performing arts as well as a very wide range of traditional academic subjects, from Leintwardine to Ross-on-Wye, and beyond.

And all this has come with no sacrifice of teaching quality. In January 2023, in its Golden Jubilee year, the College was inspected by Ofsted and retained its "Outstanding" grade in all areas of its work.

This is an astonishing collective achievement. But it also reminds us of all the brilliant people and institutions who may sit, as George Orwell said, unseen or unnoticed in front of our noses. As we head into Christmas, let us do everything we can to love and support them.

First published in the Hereford Times and Ross Gazette.