Making history in Hertfordshire

Leventhorpe School is offering students the opportunity to study for a full University of London degree
Denise Jackson and students
Denise Jackson, Head of Sociology, pictured with current BSc Sociology students
It’s so much better being in a classroom environment, rather than sitting at home studying. We’ve got a great teacher here and great classmates as well

A five-minute car ride from Sawbridgeworth train station, Leventhorpe School is making history, claiming to be the first state secondary school in the country to offer a full degree programme[1].

Half a dozen students are now enrolled on the BSc Sociology degree offered through the University of London International Programmes, with academic direction provided by The London School of Economics and Political Science.

The driving force behind this quiet revolution is Denise Jackson, Head of Sociology and HE-Co-ordinator at the coeducational state comprehensive.

Denise Jackson“I have an absolute passion for self-education”, she tells me. “We are a state-funded academy with a 6th form of around 360. I have been running Open University courses here for the last six years. Increasingly, students were asking whether they could stay on to complete a degree at the school through the OU. I pursued this route but on the journey discovered the University of London International Programmes and the rest is history as they say.”

As this was a new initiative, applying for student finance became a bit of a bureaucratic headache, but this didn’t deter Mrs Jackson from her ultimate goal. Having set up Leventhorpe as a Higher Education Institute, and many emails and forms later, she was finally given a password and access to the HE Portal.

“It’s about the localisation of HE – that is what we’re now offering,” Mrs Jackson adds.

Leventhorpe is charging tuition fees of £5,000 per year for the degree programme, substantially less than the £9,000 per year which is common in most UK public universities. All of the students are working either full or part time.

Hannah Gordon, 19, decided to return to Leventhorpe after spending a year studying a BA in Sociology at a campus university. Not enjoying the commute three times a week, the combination of proximity to Leventhorpe and the prospect of studying again with Mrs Jackson proved irresistible.

Denise Jackson and Hannah Gordon“I’m loving it”, she notes. “I sometimes come in to study courses that I’m not even doing, just to listen to everything, as it helps me with the other courses.”

Hannah (pictured on the right) has her sister, Kirsty, 22, for company on the degree. “At home, if either of us is stuck we’ll say can you quickly help me with this. It’s quite a good thing having my sister doing it as well. We all help each other.”

Also part of the first intake, Chris Kemp, 23, comments: “I got the email about this course and it’s just fantastic. It’s so much better being in a classroom environment, rather than sitting at home studying. We’ve got a great teacher here and great classmates as well. I learn best bouncing off other people, listening to other people, and contributing myself. Whereas if it was just me alone with a book, I may feel that I understand it when in truth I haven’t.”

Teaching for the BSc Sociology started on 11 September, with eight hours of face-to-face tuition per week. Mrs Jackson will teach the 12 courses that make up the degree herself, with the exception of ‘Statistics 1’, for which she will draft in a statistician. 

With an academic background that includes a BSc in Sociology, a BA in Psychology and a Masters in Educational Management and Leadership, Mrs Jackson is also completing a PhD (“Geeks, boffins, swots and nerds: A social constructionist analysis of gifted and talented identities in post-16 education”). With the bulk of her extensive teaching experience taking place in Further Education and Sixth Form Colleges, Leventhorpe is the sixth educational institution she has worked in – and the only school so far.

So, almost three months in, how is she finding it?

“I absolutely adore it. They have some dynamic discussions in here – I’m doing the courses with them.”

[1] As reported in the TES, South Holderness Technology College in Preston offers a BTEC HND, equivalent to the first two years of an honours degree. However, students wanting to top this up to a full degree need to do so elsewhere.