2 February 2021

Peter Symonds College students celebrate incredible 56 Oxbridge offers

Students at Peter Symonds College are celebrating an incredible 56 offers to study at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Between them, students from 28 different secondary schools have received 34 offers from the University of Oxford and 22 offers from the University of Cambridge.

Principal Sara Russell said “I am absolutely delighted for these students who are seeing their hard work and dedication yield wonderful results. The Oxbridge application process is always extremely challenging and incredibly competitive and to be offered a place is a fantastic achievement at any time. To be successful with the additional challenges that successive lockdowns and remote learning have placed in the way make these achievements even more impressive.”

Student Sejal Kumar, from Southampton and a former pupil at St Anne’s Catholic College, has been offered a place to study Medicine at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. She said “Oxford has been my dream for so long and I'm so thankful and happy to be offered a place. It still feels so surreal. Symonds was very supportive throughout the application process. The Oxbridge Prep Programme helped get me started on the journey and the extension materials for medicine provided by the biology department helped me familiarise myself with the entrance tests and interviews.”

Callum Webb, a former pupil of Hurst Community College and one of four Peter Symonds students who have received offers to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford, said “Peter Symonds offered a great opportunity for me to flourish academically. In particular, getting involved in a variety of enrichments allowed me to further explore what I had done in lessons; debating and learning with others was invaluable in achieving my offer.”

He added “The Oxbridge team at Symonds really made an offer feel like a realistic goal for everyone, their advice and support was so helpful across the whole application process.”

Former Testbourne Community School student Anna Jay, who has a place to study German and Arabic at Wadham College, Oxford, agreed, adding, “There was a lot of work, but it feels worth it. It was so helpful having the support from college, especially two practice interviews which gave me useful interview skills and an insight into potential questions.”

Sabina Labrow, Peter Symonds specialist Oxbridge tutor, congratulated students, saying “These students come from a diverse range of schools and backgrounds, but one thing they have in common is that all have worked extremely hard and taken advantage of all the opportunities available to them. Their ability and commitment is remarkable and it’s a joy to see them fulfil their potential.”

Former Kings School student Ady Gaurav, who has an offer from Balliol College, Oxford, to study Maths, said, “I am thrilled to receive an offer from Oxford and I am very grateful for the support given to me by the college. In particular, the practice interviews we were given helped me convey my thoughts in an effective way, which improved my confidence.”

Student Milosz Kowalski, who formerly attended Bitterne Park School and has been offered a place on the Human Social and Political Sciences course at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, said “As someone from a working-class, migrant background, it was sometimes difficult to see myself at Cambridge, but the supportive atmosphere at Symonds made me feel that truly anyone can succeed. The HE+ programme inspired me to go beyond the curriculum, a key aspect of my Cambridge application, while being surrounded by ambitious peers kept me motivated and engaged. Working hard during the pandemic was difficult, but having such a wonderful final goal in sight was extremely helpful!”

Peter Symonds is a non-selective state sixth form college and one of only two state institutions listed in the top eight contributors of students to Oxford and Cambridge nationally in a Sutton Trust survey. Since 2000, an average of 47 Peter Symonds students per year have been offered places at Oxbridge. At any one time, there are over 150 ex-Symonds students studying at Oxford and Cambridge.

4 March 2021

Competitive conservatoires offer places to Music students after tough video auditions

Music students at Peter Symonds College are celebrating winning places to study music at a host of prestigious conservatoires around the country.

Students Lilia Collier-Smith, double bass, and Cam Rossi, saxophone, have places at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Cam, who has been awarded a major scholarship by the Guildhall, said “The interview process was quite strange this year having everything over zoom and phone calls, but the staff at Guildhall were amazing and made it feel almost normal.”

Student Hanna Csermely will be studying piano at the Royal Northern College of Music; Tom Wright and Archie McMorran will be studying composition while Robyn Jones will be studying voice at Trinity Laban, London; and Poppy Hughes will be studying trumpet on a classical/jazz combined course at Leeds Conservatoire.

Poppy Hughes said “I am delighted to have received an offer from Leeds Conservatoire. As a trumpet player I struggled to make the choice between studying classical or jazz music and I’m so excited to say that Leeds Conservatoire offers me both. I am looking forward to developing my passion and to get involved with new opportunities helping to prepare me for a career in music.”

Robyn Jones commented, “I’m very excited to be given the opportunity to study at Trinity Laban; as a singer it’s always very ambiguous if your voice will be ready at 18 to study at a conservatoire, so I am feeling very relieved and excited that all my hard work paid off.”

She added, “I definitely would not have been able to do it without the College’s support, particularly as all the auditions were recorded. The college were amazing at supporting me through the whole experience, providing a pianist to accompany me and lots of support from both my voice tutor and the whole specialist music team.”

Due to the restrictions of the pandemic students had to audition for conservatoire places by video recording, with very little prior notice. Hanna Csermely noted that, “Auditioning online this year changed many aspects of the audition process but my teachers were so supportive and adaptable to the situation, providing me with the best opportunities to record professionally. I'm so excited to start my piano studies at the Royal Northern College of Music next year and it is without a doubt that my teachers at Peter Symonds College allowed me to achieve my goals.”

Saxophonist Cam Rossi, who auditioned with a backing band of teachers, agreed: “Auditioning over video was quite a challenge as it wasn't in front of the panel, but in my case it was nice to be playing with people that I've played with a lot and having a connection to the band I was playing with made me a lot less nervous, thanks to the amazing teacher jazz trio that are at Symonds!”

Head of Music Rachel Platt praised her team, stating “These applications are always a real team effort. Our Head of Keyboard, Samantha Carrasco, organised the performances and accompanied the students, with many hours of rehearsal. Sarah Mann, our music technician, made it all possible with high-quality audio and video. We are grateful to Ted Carrasco, Head of Pop and Jazz Performance, for organising the live trio of teachers performing on Cam Rossi’s video which also included Robert Johnston and John Dickson. Michael Gale supervised the applications with his invaluable expertise and advice, and other PSC peripatetic instrumental and vocal teachers helped supervise the preparation of required repertoire. We are also grateful to the Symondians Association for covering some of the additional costs.”

Cam Rossi also enjoyed the opportunity to receive advice from the world-renowned jazz musician Julian Joseph in an online master class before the audition. Cam, who has been awarded a major scholarship by the Guildhall, said “College has helped me so much over this period by giving me advice about interviews and conduct when I'm talking to people from conservatoires. The jazz teachers at College were great to be able rehearse with and were so supportive through the whole recording process.

“I feel amazing to have won my place at Guildhall! I can't wait to start there; to further my knowledge of jazz and push myself to the limits as a player.”

11 March 2021

College Careers Day goes online to inspire students

Students at Peter Symonds College are considering their future options after the College held its annual Careers Day online for the first time.

Nearly 150 talks were delivered over the course of Careers Day, with a variety of guest speakers from the fields of higher education, public services and local and national business delivering lectures and Q&A sessions using zoom.

Sessions on “Teaching in a Secondary School,” “Town Planning and Urban Design” and “Benefits of Taking a Gap Year” were particularly popular among students, as were talks on “A Career as Diplomat,” “Oceanography” and “Careers in Medicine.”

Students were able to listen to and quiz speakers from a wide variety of organisations including the BBC and ITV, law firms and legal chambers, the Armed Forces and public services, including nursing, midwifery and the police and ambulance services.

A number of speakers from higher education institutions, apprenticeship schemes and organisations covered topics ranging from “Student Finance” to “Studying Abroad” and the “Future of Employment.”

Students attended between 3-6 sessions over the course of the day. When asked for feedback comments from students included, “The speaker was excellent in covering everything that needs to be done to succeed in this career, as well as explaining the lifestyle that we would expect;” “Speaker was very experienced and had good knowledge. Talked about a variety of job opportunities;” and “Interesting aspect and wide range of information and information on which A levels are beneficial. [The speaker] also gave a good explanation on the many routes into the career.”

Speakers also enjoyed taking part in the event, with Joanna Lee of the South Central Ambulance Service saying “This virtual event was very well organised and we all felt from our end it was a great success. It was lovely to have the students ask lots of questions and we felt we got more questions than we would when we come face to face to deliver these presentations.”

Sarah Byard from Lancaster University agreed, adding, “A really well run event. Students were engaged and asked so many questions, which was fab!”

Debbie Mahoney, Head of the Careers Department at Peter Symonds, said “Careers Day is always an amazing opportunity for students to gain an insight into the diverse range of career areas and opportunities available, labour market information, and to broaden their knowledge of courses available in higher education so they can make informed decisions about their next steps.

“Speakers, staff and students all embraced the new 'zoom' version of Careers Day and the day ran incredibly well. We have had fantastic comments from our speakers, who commented on how well received they felt, how impressed with they were with the number of students attending and how motivated the students were to listen and ask questions.”

The College followed up on the success of Virtual Careers Day with a virtual version of the annual Progression Fair, enabling students to research their next steps after College. Exhibitors included higher education institutions both in the UK and abroad, local and national employers and organisations, and just as with a live event students enjoyed the opportunity to view information, chat with exhibitors, collect information and interact with the organisations attending.

24 February 2021

Symonds welcomes leading performers to online Young Musician Festival

Peter Symonds College Music Department successfully navigated yet another lockdown learning challenge recently, holding its annual Young Musician Festival online. Seven internationally renowned musicians logged in over the course of the week to deliver live performance masterclasses and workshops in Piano, Strings, Wind, Brass, Percussion, Guitar and Voice.

Dr Samantha Carrasco, Head of Keyboard, who organises the Festival, had to approach this year’s event slightly differently. She arranged a pre-recorded accompaniment for each student taking part, enabling them to play live in front of an online audience. The best performance from each class will go on to play in the Final which will be held later in the year.

The Festival kicked off with a singing masterclass from Heidi Pegler, performer, teacher, publisher and Baroque specialist, followed by a woodwind masterclass from influential educationalist, composer and writer Paul Harris.

Mark Tanner, concert pianist, composer, teacher and writer delivered a masterclass in piano followed by a workshop from guitar maestro Zoran Dukić, a distinguished performer and recording artist.

Chair of the European String Teachers Association Dale Chambers held a strings masterclass and Claire Hasted, consultant for ABRSM and Trinity, held sessions in percussion for students. Mark Armstrong, Musical Director of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Professor at the Royal College of Music concluded the Festival with a brass masterclass.

Commenting on the Festival student Robyn Jones, winner of the singing class, said “I have done a number of concerts via zoom during lockdown but never a competition; it can be difficult to perform virtually as you don’t get the same energy from the audience and you can’t see peoples’ faces as you sing. The benefit though is it is far less nerve racking singing in your kitchen than on stage.”

She added, “You have to learn to be extra expressive to try and connect with the viewers and be aware that the audience can see your facial expressions more clearly on camera.”

Finlay Housham, winner of the strings class, said “I found performing for, and being given diligent feedback by, a professional musician very exciting and inspiring.”

Dr Samantha Carrasco said, “This was a Peter Symonds first putting the festival online - the students rose to the occasion and really enjoyed the opportunity. It gave them a wealth of experience performing online and has given them extra confidence and insight into communicating to a virtual audience, which will be similar to the process of performing for their A Level recordings later in the year. They mastered working with a pre-recorded accompaniment brilliantly!”

Samantha added, “It was an incredibly worthwhile opportunity for the students to continue performing in these challenging circumstances and we are very grateful to our sponsors, the Symondians Association and Christes Hospitall Foundation, for their generosity and support.”

18 January 2021

Virtual HE+ Programme launches for Year 12 students across Hampshire

Students at state schools and colleges across Hampshire have seen the successful launch of the 2021 HE+ Programme, run by the University of Cambridge with Peter Symonds College acting as a regional hub. The HE+ Programme is designed to support and challenge talented Year 12 students to raise their academic attainment and aspirations through a series of lectures, workshops and events offered by the University of Cambridge.

Over 500 Year 12 students from state schools and colleges across Hampshire will take part in this year’s HE+ Programme, which due to Covid-19 restrictions will take place online. Students from Peter Symonds College will be working with students from Bitterne Park School, Andover/Sparsholt College, Bay House, Brockenhurst College, Itchen College, Oaklands Catholic School, Portsmouth College, HSDC - Alton, HSDC - Havant and South Downs, Ringwood, Richard Taunton College and St Anne’s Catholic School for the extension programme involving university style lectures and additional support offered by Trinity College, University of Cambridge.

Hampshire is one of 22 hubs around England now running the HE+ project which brings together and supports large groups of lower sixth students with a range of science or humanity evening lectures and events. The scheme’s common aim is to stimulate the students to think beyond their A level curriculum and be introduced to new ideas and concepts using a range of extension activities and materials, while also challenging them to support each other by exchanging ideas and information with their peers at other schools and colleges.

One of the aims of the project is to assist in widening participation, particularly for students from families and communities where progression to higher education has not been the norm.

Yvette Wands, who co-ordinates the HE+ programme at HSDC Alton, said “Students who participated last year found the HE+ sessions interesting and informative. A number stated that the programme had improved their confidence when applying to university and several said taking part had influenced their choice of degree course.”

Commenting on the HE+ programme, Peter Symonds College student Anna G said “What made the programme so appealing to me was the chance to explore STEM through numerous lectures delivered by the Cambridge academic community. I hope to broaden my knowledge of science, discuss topics I am passionate about and investigate them even further. The initial session was exciting as we were briefed on the content of the programme and I believe this programme is going to strengthen my driving passion for STEM with the many lectures ahead.”

Fellow Symonds student Aidan L said, “I hope to gain a greater insight into university life, and an increased engagement with my current studies through my time partaking in HE+, as well as developing skills and knowledge that will strengthen myself and my university applications. I feel extremely grateful that the college has offered its students this opportunity, as it offers a fantastic range of advice, information, and beneficial resources that go beyond the curriculum to enhance further study.”

Angelique F, a student at Richard Taunton Sixth Form College, added “The HE+ programme has provided me with a platform to gain valuable insight into the university application process as well as an opportunity to enhance my knowledge of the sciences.”

“In a year where students have missed out on so many opportunities it is really encouraging to see the HE+ programme running virtually to stretch and challenge Year 12 students and encourage them to consider the opportunities available to them once they have completed their A level studies,” says Nick Allen, Peter Symonds’ Deputy Principal (Quality) who oversees the HE+ Project in Hampshire.

“Although the programme will look a little different this year it will continue to help students deepen their understanding of their chosen subject, develop key independent learning and research skills, and inspire them to aim high with their aspirations for the future.”

1 April 2021

An interview with Nadiya on all things Ramadan

With Ramadan fast approaching, PSC Journalist Intern Louisa Philips caught up with Nadiya, former Symonds student (Class of 2020), to discuss why she follows Ramadan and what it entails.

What does Ramadan entail?

Ramadan is the name of a month in the Islamic calendar, and it is a very special month for Muslims. During the month, Muslims fast during daylight hours and so they do not eat or drink until sunset. Muslims break their fast when the sun goes down each day and this is known as ‘Iftar’. Normally Iftar begins with everyone eating a date and drinking a glass of water because this is what the Prophet Muhammed ﷺ did when breaking his fast. Muslims are then able to eat during the period between sunset and sunrise and will generally eat a meal just before sunrise (this is known as suhoor or sehri). 

Popular misconceptions are that Muslims do not eat or drink for the full 30 days, but this is not the case. Muslims are able to eat and drink each evening, up until sunrise when the new fasting day begins. Some people are also unaware that along with not eating, Muslims also abstain from drinking in the day. Ramadan is not just centred on food and drink. It is a time prescribed for Muslims to achieve the highest spiritual state they can and become closer to Allah (God) through different forms of worship – this includes the fasting itself, reading the Qur’an and praying throughout the day. In Ramadan, Muslims give up smoking, drinking alcohol (which is normally prohibited) and sex to focus their attention on their imaan (faith). The month is a time to think about the poor and give money to charity and to help each other. After Ramadan, there is a celebration called Eid al-Fitr where Muslims celebrate with their families by wearing nice clothes and eating together. 

Has Ramadan been hard to follow whilst at college and uni?

It is a challenge but in the best possible way. In my experience, one challenge has been fasting in a predominantly non-Muslim environment. It does not put you off fasting but when you have others around you fasting it emphasises the community feeling. For the last few years Ramadan has coincided with exam time for many students. This can be difficult in balancing all the different aspects of Ramadan and revising or taking tests. It can be difficult if you are not eating or drinking, but I have found that it keeps my mind clear. It gives me the discipline and concentration needed for my exams and studies. I have found that when exams and Ramadan coincide, I feel much better and stronger mentally and physically if I plan my food and my revision and eat things that give me fuel and strength. Muslims have free will and could not fast during exams, but I choose to because I am lucky to be healthy enough to do it every year and it is rewarding in every way. Ramadan is a test, but it brings out the best in Muslims and many people feel that they become a better person during Ramadan. It is still evidently challenging for all Muslims in different ways, but it is a time where you are taught to overcome these hardships. 

What are the rewards you get from it? 

The physical or tangible rewards you get are being more in tune with yourself, having a clear mind, and being able to focus on things that are important to you. It breaks down mental and physical barriers that many people may have, and it allows you to push yourself and have discipline and self-control. Muslim are rewarded with Eid al-Fitr as a celebration of everyone’s achievements in Ramadan. 

In terms of religious rewards, the rewards you get for fasting are enormous. Fasting allows you to expiate your past sins and to have a clean slate for your spiritual health. The rewards lie in becoming a better person, an increase in Taqwa (God- consciousness), and greater focus on charity and those less fortunate. You learn how to treat those around you better (e.g., no swearing). During the last 10 nights of Ramadan there is the night of power (or Layatul- Qadr) a night in which any acts of worship (praying, giving to charity, reading the Qur’an) results in reward greater than an entire year’s worth of worship. The night of power is important because it the night when the Qur’an was sent from heaven to Earth. 

What can other people do to help you when you are fasting/during Ramadan?

As a Muslim, I feel that it would be nice to have support. If your friend is fasting, you could find out about why Muslims fast and educate yourself on things that you did not know about Ramadan already. A Muslim is exempt from fasting if they are physically unwell and have any illnesses which would be harmful for them to fast. If they are old, pregnant or on their period they do not have to fast. I think it would be helpful to not question someone you know who is Muslim if you see them eating during Ramadan, as they may have personal reasons for why they are not fasting. It is completely acceptable to drink or eat in front of someone who is fasting, they will generally not be offended. If someone you know is fasting during an examination period, I would suggest not questioning them on why they are doing it or imply that they should abstain from fasting because it is a personal choice. 

I think schools, colleges, and universities in which Muslims are a minority should take extra consideration for Muslims, for example making sure there is a reduction of compulsory physical activity, allowing students to pray at prayer time and having tests/exams earlier in the day when students are more alert. After Ramadan, and it is Eid, wish your Muslim friends ‘Eid Mubarak’ for their celebration as a kind gesture. It would be great if educational institutions recognised that Muslims would take a day off to celebrate Eid and make it easy for them to catch up on any work.

Advice for people in Ramadan

For a person who is fasting in Ramadan my greatest advice would be to remember to be organised. Prioritise maximising your worship so that you can get as much reward as possible. Help out your family with cooking and if you have exams, plan your revision time, and eat healthy foods which will keep you going for longer. Remember to drink plenty of water.

Written by: Louisa Philips

Thanks to Nadiya for all of your insights!

Sign Up to our Newsletter

We publish a newsletter roughly once a half-term. This consists of a compilation of the most interesting stories from that term.